Oncology DTC: Falling short?

KEY TAKEAWAY: Patients want to be empowered when it comes to choosing oncology treatments, but there’s a fine line between informing and pushing products that may not be right for them.

There has been much criticism of the DTC ads being aired by Merck and BMS for their cancer drugs, but do cancer patients really go to their oncologist and ask for a specific drug?  Probably not, but you can be sure that [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]it leads to deeper conversations around treatment options which is the purpose of DTC ads.[/inlinetweet]


Oncology, however, is a different health condition.  First, it’s important to understand that [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]”there is no cancer moonshot”.  [/inlinetweet]There are too many different types of cancer and every patient responds differently to different treatments. Second, while the label on some drugs only says that life can be extended by weeks some patients are indeed living longer with new drugs.  Of course, there are some patients who don’t respond to the new oncology drugs as well, but shouldn’t we give them hope that new drugs will work?

Drug Companies Falling Short

A newly diagnosed cancer patient is likely to be overwhelmed with health information online. There are tens of thousands websites on how to deal with cancer and a lot of them are pure bunk.  This is an area where pharma has fallen short.

Patients want realistic health information with an empathetic view and they want it in a language they can understand.  Most pharma websites, according to research we did this Spring and Summer, are not meeting the needs of cancer patients.  Their language is too difficult to understand and they fall into the trap of trying to “sell” rather than educate patients.

Surprisingly, while patients want to be informed, some are willing to forgo treatment if it means a poor quality of life.  Just a mention of the word “chemotherapy” for example, brings thoughts of suffering and a deterioration in the overall quality of life.

So how do Oncologists explain to a cancer patient that one of the new immune therapy drugs may not be right for them when drugmakers are promising so much?  This is the danger of a traditional DTC approach.  Merck’s TV ad for Keytruda shows a real patient talking about her treatment, but what about the other patients who were not as lucky?

DTC has to get real when it comes to Oncology products, but drug companies have to do a better job, online, of meeting patient needs when it comes to the new and complicated world of cancer treatments.  Time for a new approach..