BMS snares 'Modern Family' star to raise flag for immuno-oncology awareness

Within the pharma industry, immuno-oncology is one of the hottest areas of research and development. But the average American likely doesn't know what it means--or why it matters. Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) is trying to change that with an unbranded immuno-oncology awareness campaign called "Ready. Raise. Rise."

A study done by TNS on behalf of Bristol-Myers found that only 20% of respondents were familiar with immuno-oncology as a cancer treatment approach, as opposed to those who knew about options such as chemotherapy (80%), radiation (79%) and surgery (69%).

"Immuno-oncology is a rapidly evolving field of research, and while some doctors are familiar with the science of I-O, it is less understood among patients," said Teresa Bitetti, senior VP of U.S. oncology at BMS, in an email interview. "Most people (87%) are eager to learn more about I-O, suggesting there is a need for more public education."

Eric Stonestreet

"Modern Family" actor Eric Stonestreet is the spokesman for the digital and public relations campaign that asks people to create a flag to honor or support themselves or someone they know who has been touched by cancer. Each time a person creates a flag, they are asked to choose to support one of 23 participating cancer advocacy organizations. In September, the organizations with the most flags raised will receive a donation of $25,000, $50,000 and $75,000 from BMS.

Since the campaign launched in May, more than 7,800 flags have been raised, Bitetti said. By the time the drive wraps up in the fall, BMS estimates it will have reached 120 million people with news about the campaign.

Bristol-Myers' focus on cancer treatments, particularly immuno-oncology, has been evident the past few years, but has accelerated more recently. Earlier this year, it boosted its cancer therapy pipeline with the buyout of Flexus for its IDO/TDO targeted immunotherapies BMS could combine with drugs in its portfolio, and a partnership with Rigel to collaborate on its small molecule TGF-receptor kinase inhibitors. Last month, BMS said it will quit its virology R&D program--although it will continue selling current virology drugs as well as those already in clinical development--to focus on oncology. Antivirals made up about 30%, or $1.2 billion, of BMS' revenue in the first quarter, while oncology treatments made up about 22%, or $905 million, according to Bloomberg Businessweek numbers.

BMS is in a heated battle with Merck ($MRK), the maker of Keytruda, as well as expected I-O treatments from some of the world's largest drug makers including Roche ($RHHBY), AstraZeneca ($AZN) and Pfizer ($PFE).

Market size predictions for cancer immunotherapies vary by researcher, ranging from $9 billion in 2020 (Decision Resources) to $67.9 billion by 2018 according to BCC Research. Split the difference? Two years ago, Citi GPS research pegged the cancer immunotherapy market at $35 billion by 2023.

- check out the Bristol-Myers I-O campaign
- read BCC Research release
- see the Decision Resources data

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