At a glance: Novartis looks to boost GP oncology awareness

What is Novartis trying to achieve? The company is planning to run more GP-led education campaigns on oncology this year, according to Novartis UK head of PR Fiona Turner. She believes pharma companies need to broaden their PR efforts beyond secondary specialists that are relevant to their product.

Which drugs would this involve?
Glivec (imatinib), which is used to treat chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML). Novartis also has breast cancer drug Femara (letrozole) and bone disease treatment Zometa (zoledronic acid) in its oncology portfolio.

Who will be involved in the campaign?
Ruder Finn has the UK and global account for oncology at Novartis, which includes some medical education as well as media relations. Pat Pearson, the agency's deputy MD and head of healthcare, oversees the account with account director Emma Keeling looking after Glivec. They report to Turner.

And Novartis thinks GPs are increasingly important because...
Because GPs are the first to see CML patients, for example. When patients feel ill they invariably go to their local surgery. Misdiagnosis or late diagnosis are both potentially fatal for people with chronic diseases, which means that GPs require a good understanding of the condition to make immediate referrals.

Is CML a common problem?
It's one of four forms of leukemia and typically affects people in middle age. From 2003, NICE recommended Glivec as the preferred first treatment to those with chronic-stage CML. The drug targets proteins called tyrosine kinases, which are made by CML cells, and stops messages from these proteins getting to cancer cells – thus interfering with their growth.

So what form will the PR programmes take?
That is yet to be decided, but the picture should be clearer in a month or so, according to Turner. However, there is already news of above-the-line support through ad agency Cherry. It is to roll out an awareness campaign with GPs, which will use trade adverts as well as med ed information – such as symptoms and prescribing information – on a website, www.cmlfuture.com, in support of Glivec.

Further information: www.novartis.co.uk

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