Thursday, April 28, 2016
Biogen's Desperate & Possibly Illegal Attempt to Improve Tecfidera Sales By Reaching Out to Consumers and Patients Directly
For the first quarter of 2016 Tecfidera brought in sales of $744 million. Analysts expected $750 million -- close, but no cigar! Even more disconcerting to investors is the fact that compared to last quarter, Tecfidera sales are down 5% (see here).
This mystifies Biogen marketers who hyped the fact that not so long ago, social media mentions predicted great sales of Tecfidera (read, for example, "Using Social Media as an Early Predictor of a New Drug's Market Share"). Biogen CEO George Scangos told investors “We were surprised... by the low awareness among patients of Tecfidera,” despite social media mentions.
To correct that, Biogen went direct to consumers and patients. STATnews, for example, reports that Biogen has gone "big with its first TV ad blitz" for Tecfidera. "It has bought nearly $39 million worth of TV airtime over the past seven months, vaulting Tecfidera into the top 20 most advertised drugs on US television for that period, according to the media research firm iSpot.tv," reports STATnews (read "Inside Biogen's Tecfidera 'Ad Blitz'").
But in its attempt to heighten Tecfidera awareness, Biogen may have mis-stepped and even crossed the line into illegal activity.
First, the mis-step: the DTC ads are not proving popular with MS activists. Jack Barrette, CEO of patient social network WeGo Health, said "We are definitely hearing loud and clear from our MS patient community leaders that some television DTC is presenting an unrealistic view of people with MS, and that they are forced to handle not just outrage but confusion about these medications. Top leaders of our community would replace huge TV spends with in-depth digital programs that can share the true patient voice" (read "More DTC Ad Backlash. This Time from Patient Bloggers!").
Second, Biogen's possible illegal activity: According to a report by MM&M (here), Biogen has been subpoenaed by the federal government, which requested documents "detailing its relationship with nonprofit foundations that assist patients taking drugs sold by the company. These foundations often provide financial support to patients who cannot afford their medications."
Despite the DTC ad blitz and taking "Patient Centricity" a step too far, fewer prescriptions are being filled for Tecfidera.