Client: Bristol-Myers Squibb

Project: Immuno-oncology, a New Paradigm in the Treatment of Pulmonary Cancer

Context & objectives

At the beginning of 2017, pulmonary cancer was a subject much debated in the national press. Thousands of articles were published yearly, on this subject. Despite the large number of occurrences on the subject, very few of them (under 5%) talked about the treatment of the disease, most of them focusing on messages about early detection, and specific symptomatology. On the other hand, immuno-oncology was a subject little debated in Romania, almost absent from the agenda of the mass media and the politicians and, in any case, much less debated than it is in the West. In this context, the campaign was set to inform and educate the population on a new cancer treatment paradigm – immuno-oncology – applied to pulmonary cancer, one of the neoplasms with the highest incidence and mortality in our country.

Strategy

The main challenge was to translate the concept of immuno-oncology/immunotherapy for the general public, since this is a completely new concept, which entails the risk of being mistaken for natural supplements to boost immunity. Another challenge was to improve the negotiation position for the company, in relation to the health authorities, in order to add the therapy to the reimbursement list. Thus, the strategy was based on a major Media Relations component, with the purpose to raise awareness and better understanding of the concept of immuno-therapy, as well as an association with relevant KOLs (patients’ associations, doctors), and a series of public affairs actions.

Implementation

The first step of the campaign, which covered the entire year 2017, was a media advisory board meant to inform the opinion leaders – journalists and bloggers – about immuno-oncology, and the new innovative methods to treat pulmonary cancer. The event was preceded by sustained actions of media pitching, meant to generate articles that prepare the ground for a better understanding of the subject, and that raise questions. It was attended by oncologists, representatives of the Federation of Associations of Cancer Patients in Romania (FABC), representatives of the civil society, and BMS. The latest results of the research in the field of immuno-oncology for the treatment of pulmonary cancer were presented, results which had been published recently, at the largest oncology congress in the world (ASCO – Chicago).

The event was followed by a series of public affairs actions – letters to the authorities etc. In the summer of 2017, the authorities already announced the approval of reimbursement for the nivolumab therapy, in the pulmonary cancer indication. BMS continued to educate the population on the benefits of immuno-oncology in the treatment of pulmonary cancer, organizing a second press conference to launch the immuno-oncology.ro platform, and a video infographic, as part of the population education campaign, on the innovative treatment method. On this occasion, BMS made the official announcement that 4,000 eligible pulmonary cancer patients will receive state of the art treatment for free.

The campaign also involved two influential bloggers, with different target audiences, who approached the issue from two perspectives: Simona Tache (simonatache.ro) – the emotional perspective (the path of a cancer patient, from the moment of diagnosis, until the moment of access to treatment), and Radu Dumitru (nwradu.ro) – the rational perspective (explaining how immuno-oncology works, and which are the benefits of this treatment, compared to chemotherapy, and radiotherapy, the classic therapies).

Results:

By far the best result of the education campaign on the benefits of immuno-oncology was the nivolumab immunotherapy approved for reimbursement, for pulmonary cancer patients, thus confirming the need for such a revolutionary treatment, which increases the long-term survival rate among pulmonary cancer patients. The communication campaign generated 70 media occurrences: 6 items of TV news (Antena 1, PRO TV, TVR 1, and Prima TV), with an estimated reach of over 10 million opportunities to see, and over 200 social media mentions. All the key-messages about immuno-oncology have been covered by the press, doubled by medical solid and credible opinions.