Oncology DTC: Overpromising & Under delivering?

  • Oncology DTC ads promise a lot, but the therapies are not right for everyone.
  • Many of these treatments bring risks of painful — even life-threatening— side effects and carry total price tags pushing $1 million.
  • There are few objective guideposts to determine which patients should get which treatments, or even undergo genetic testing to determine whether they are among the minority of patients who might benefit substantially from immuno-oncology medicines. (Source:STAT News)

Karen a middle aged housewife, was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer that was spreading.  She asked her Oncologist for an advertised drug, but her doctor said that the drug was not right for her and that she had better “put her affairs in order”.  She had read all the information on Keytruda.com even though she didn’t understand a lot of it and felt that the therapy was worth a try.  Her doctor refused to prescribe it and instead recommended other therapies which have neutralized the spread of cancer.  “We keep hearing all these stories about the miracles of these new drugs, but for every success there have been many failures as well” she told me.  When I asked her if she had seen the Keytruda DTC TV ad she said “of course, it’s why I thought it might work for me”.

According to Fierce Pharma As more oncology treatments have flooded the market, so has cancer DTC advertising. But as the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s 2018 meeting neared, Syneos Health wanted to know just how big that wave has been, so its researchers analyzed Kantar data for oncology products going back to 2008.

What they found was a big spike[inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]. The $497 million spent on oncology consumer ads last year was more than six times the $80 million spent on cancer DTC over seven previous years (2008-2014).[/inlinetweet]

The percentages allocated to DTC by makers of cancer drugs saw a big jump as well. From 2008 to 2014, DTC accounted for anywhere from 1% to 7% of all their spending on oncology promotions, which include in-person detailing to physicians, meetings and events, and professional journal ads. But [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]in 2017, DTC jumped to 39% of that spending.[/inlinetweet]
Drug companies should go out of their way to clearly explain new drug risks and criteria to become patients.  Right now patients have to do their own research and as one Oncologist recently told me “I’m getting tired of telling patients that certain therapies are not right for their type of cancer”.
It doesn’t help when the media jumps on the bandwagon.  A recent story on CBS News “Groundbreaking treatment saves life of woman with late-stage breast cancer” is a great feel good story, but how many patients are going to get false hopes because of it?

The worst thing any brand or product can do is over promise and under deliver.  Drug makers need to understand that lesson.