At a Glance: Roche's cancer drugs hit nationalheadlines

They're getting a lot of coverage?

The Daily Mail and The Observer have been forceful in their support of Roche's oncology products in recent days. The Mail splashed on the fact that the Scottish Medicines Consortium, Scotland's NICE equivalent, has already recommended Xeloda as a treatment for early bowel cancer.

Do we hear 'postcode lottery'?

Loud and clear. The Observer carried a hard-hitting editorial last Sunday on MabThera, the Roche product for those suffering from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Although, it is already available in Scotland, London and Derbyshire, it will not be assessed for prescription by the NHS until 2007 - despite what the paper calls its 'clear benefits' over existing treatments.

A compelling story. Who's in the PR team behind it?

Roche's UK head of product comms is Susie Hackett, but Roche products PR manager for oncology, virology and transplant is Greg Page. From an agency perspective Roche retains Ketchum, whose UK healthcare MD Avril Lee oversees the Xeloda and MabThera accounts, run day to day by Valerie Hargreaves and Victoria West.

So is this part of a specific media blitz?

Roche says not, although it admits it is trying to tune in to topical media concerns, such as the funding of cancer treatment. Not for the first time, either: news of Kylie Minogue's breast cancer earlier this year stimulated interest in its Herceptin drug (PRWeek, 3 June).

So, the coverage is sorted. But what about end results?

NICE has already rejected the idea of fast-tracking Xeloda. Roche insists it knew this and was merely trying to highlight the issue. Articles have also pointed out that Xeloda is available to patients in England and Wales if NHS Trusts are willing to provide funding.

And Ketchum does PR for other Roche drugs, too?

It handles three other oncology brands: Herceptin (for breast cancer), Bondronat (bone cancer) and Tarceva (lung cancer). Resolute Communications works on Avastin (colon cancer).

Further information www.rocheuk.com.

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