Novartis educates patients about IBS for drug launch

EAST HANOVER, NJ: Novartis, in partnership with the Society for Women's Health Research (SWHR), has developed a campaign to educate the public on irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

EAST HANOVER, NJ: Novartis, in partnership with the Society for Women's Health Research (SWHR), has developed a campaign to educate the public on irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Ruder Finn is assisting with the initiative, which was launched as part of the 2003 rollout of Zelnorm, Novartis' IBS treatment.

The effort was initially created to prepare the market for direct-to-consumer advertising for the drug, which Novartis intentionally delayed because of the public's lack of understanding of the condition. Research showed that a lot of people do not view IBS as a legitimate disease, and many who experience symptoms are uncomfortable broaching the subject with their doctors.

Fittingly labeled Talk IBS, the campaign's objective is to encouraging discussion about IBS symptoms with physicians. A questionnaire, which sufferers can bring with them on doctor visits, was developed to ease the process of talking about the symptoms of IBS.

"We are trying to get people to talk comfortably with their doctors about the 'ABCs,' which stand for abdominal pain, bloating, and constipation," said Nicole Iorillo, senior account supervisor for Ruder Finn.

Actress Lynda Carter, whose mother has suffered from IBS, was selected as the campaign's celebrity spokesperson. Following speaking at a launch event in Times Square with SWHR president Phyllis Greenberger, Carter was sent on a 10-city media tour. Press kits, PSAs, VNRs, and b-roll have also been distributed. A live webcast, where participants can ask doctors and patients questions about the disease, is scheduled to take place next month. All appearances and materials direct people to the campaign's website, talkibs.org, where people can find extensive information on the disease.

The campaign's measurement component is one of the things that makes Talk IBS so interesting, according to Tom Jones, executive director of communications for Novartis. "Not only are we tracking media impressions, but we are actually able to see how our outreach is directly impacting sufferers' awareness of their symptoms," explained Jones.

In April 2002, an initial survey showed that 14% of respondents saw IBS as a disease, and were aware of its symptoms. Results from a third survey, administered one month after the initiative went underway, reported 24% awareness.

Jones also reported a "sizeable difference" in the amount of Zelnorm prescribed between the areas Carter visited on the media tour and comparable marketplaces she did not.

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