At a glance: Pharma companies plan breast cancer comms

Are you referring to aromatase inhibitors (AIs)?

Yes. The AI class of drugs has been shown to reduce the recurrence of breast cancer, when compared to current standard therapy tamoxifen. AIs were okayed for NHS prescription in Scotland in May by the Scottish Medicines Consortium, the Scottish equivalent of NICE (PRWeek, 19 May).

And NICE has said they should be made available south of the border?
It last week issued preliminary guidance saying that should be the case, triggering headlines such as last week’s front page ‘Breast cancer wonder drug on the NHS’ in the Daily Mail.

Which are the brands, and comms professionals, involved?
AstraZeneca’s Arimidex, Novartis’ Femara and Pfizer’s Aromasin. Kat Burnett is Arimidex account manager at AstraZeneca, with Ogilvy PR account director Joanne Wunder reporting to her. Ruder Finn has the UK and global account for oncology at Novartis, with the agency reporting to head of PR Fiona Turner.

And for Pfizer?
Reynolds-Mackenzie has the UK brief, which covers medical and consumer media, for Aromasin. The account is led by co-founding directors Eva Reynolds and Alison Mackenzie, who report to Pfizer product comms manager for oncology Emily Bone.

What is the argument in favour of these brands?
Firstly, that women with breast cancer throughout the UK should have equal access to the most appropriate treatments, rather than have to rely on tamoxifen.

But isn’t cost an issue with these drugs?
That’s the second crucial point: the Daily Mail pointed out that Arimedix costs £900 a year, which is 13 times as much as tamoxifen. But pharma companies will say that these drugs are only expensive when compared to tamoxifen, ‘which costs 50p for a bucket’, as one PRO puts it. In terms of modern medicines, it will be argued, they are value-for-money treatments.

And these drugs definitely work?
The sad, rather morbid, fact is that more women will die before the rate of survival – which would create a stronger PR case – can be statistically proven. Trials have only been going for five years, putting this class of drugs in its clinical infancy. So far results are positive, but not conclusive.

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