After securing landmark approval to market Olumiant for the treatment of patients with alopecia areata, Eli Lilly and Incyte are taking their awareness message digital.
The educational push, on social media and other digital channels, is designed to show that severe alopecia areata involves more than just hair loss, explained Ashley Diaz GranadosVice President, US Immunology at Lilly USA.
“Our main focus right now is really to raise awareness and educate about the burden of alopecia,” Diaz-Granados said.
The Food and Drug Administration lit green the drug for use in adults with severe alopecia last month. The move marked the first-ever FDA approval of a systemic treatment for the autoimmune disease, which the agency says causes hair loss in about 300,000 people in the United States each year.
Among them is actress Jada Pinkett Smith, who has publicly shared that she has the condition, in which the body’s own immune system mistakenly attacks the hair follicles, leading to hair loss on the scalp and elsewhere. Alternative treatment options range from cosmetics (wigs and false eyelashes) to off-label therapies (corticosteroid injections into the scalp).
A day after the approval, Lilly began running a pair of unbranded ads on Facebook and Instagram announcing the approval, according to information provided by ad intelligence firm PranifyRx. The ads drive traffic to a product endorsement ad on the drug manufacturer website.
The company also runs brand-related ads on Google, with keywords related to “alopecia areata” leading to Olumiant.com.
“We have a unique omnichannel campaign focused on targeting people with alopecia areata and the platforms they regularly interact with,” Diaz-Granados said.
The pharmaceutical company has also backed a number of patient experience videos on the website of the National Alopecia Areata Foundation, the largest patient advocacy group. The videos feature a diverse group of community members talking about the physical and mental impact of the disorder and sharing advice for others.
On a professional level, Lilly supports peer-to-peer training – both in-person and virtual – with leading dermatologists and national hair experts, while providing efficacy and safety insights to clinicians. In the coming weeks, the drugmaker’s dermatology sales force will drop off samples and provide training and support to doctors and their office staff, Diaz-Granados noted.
Olumiant (baricitinib) belongs to a class of medications called JAK inhibitors. Like those developed by Pfizer and Concert Pharmaceuticals, Olumiant was already in the rheumatoid arthritis market. Earlier this year, baricitinib got another label extension to treat some people with COVID-19.
While JAK inhibitors attenuate the specific immune reaction implicated in alopecia, efficacy varied depending on dosage. In two Phase 3 trials of Olumiant, around 20% of adults taking the 2mg pill saw 80% scalp regrowth after 36 weeks. Of those taking the 4mg pill, about a third achieved this level of scalp coverage. The 4mg cohort also saw improved eyelash and eyebrow growth.
Concert Pharma similarly shared optimistic results for his own drug. FDA approval paves the way for insurance to cover drugs – which, in The case of Oluminant, costs $2,500 per month. A support program promises a personalized approach and co-payment assistance.
“We are actively engaged in conversations with payers right now,” Diaz-Granados said.
In terms of security, Olumiant came with a black box warning, the most serious type. Patients, the FDA said, should be informed of the potential for serious infections, mortality, malignancy, major adverse cardiovascular events, and thrombosis. This reflects recent scrutiny of the entire class of JAK inhibitors, although Lilly said its drug had proven security overtime.
Other marketing efforts are underway, Diaz-Granados said. According to company estimates, up to 700,000 people in the United States are living with the disease, including people with milder cases of the disease. Approximately 147 million people worldwide suffer or will suffer from alopecia.
Which makes Olumiant’s endorsement all the more significant. “This brings hope both to healthcare providers, who have been desperate to be able to provide a solution, as well as to people seeking treatment,” Diaz-Granados said.