Ad Campaign for Blacks-Only Heart Drug Touches Lightly on Race
BOSTON (AP) -- The maker of the first medication approved for use in a specific racial group is preparing to roll out its first advertisements in a narrowly targeted campaign that stresses quality-of-life issues for black heart-failure patients rather than dwelling on race.
The radio and print spots scheduled starting next week in black media in Detroit, Houston and Washington DC
e as NitroMed Inc. tries to overcome initially disappointing sales of the heart-failure drug BiDil, which hit the market a year ago.
NitroMed's consumer campaign has so far focused on personal pitches at black churches and health fairs in cities with large black populations, and partnerships with groups like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Although BiDil is approved only for use by the estimated 750,000 U.S. blacks with heart failure, a 60-second radio spot that will kick off the media campaign makes just one direct reference to race, noting that BiDil is "FDA-approved to treat heart failure in African-American patients."
The spot opens with a grandfatherly voice asking, "Pass the string beans please, and those sweet potatoes!" Then a girl's voice pleads with her grandfather to play "hide and go seek" after dinner. The response from the girl's mother: "Honey, granddad's too tired. You go play with your sister."
A voice then lists common heart-failure symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath and swollen ankles or legs, and suggests, "If this sounds like you or someone you love, ask your doctor about BiDil."
A print ad showing a black grandfather with a girl on his knee also makes only passing mention to race.
One pharmaceutical industry analyst who follows NitroMed said the spots "sound good without being too hard-core on race."
"They're trying to tread lightly here," said the analyst, Liana Moussatos, of Pacific Growth Equities.
The ad firm that developed the campaign for NitroMed says it chose to stress quality-of-life issues rather than emphasize BiDil's unique status as a race-specific drug, or the higher incidence of heart failure among blacks compared with whites.
"Race wasn't the core driver, but it's in there," said Cara Cocroft of Burrell Communications Group, a Chicago-based firm that specializes in marketing to black consumers.
B.J. Jones, vice president of marketing for Lexington-based NitroMed, said the ads attempt to subtly connect with the target audience.
"The dialogue around a family meal is something that resonates throughout the African-American community," Jones said.
BiDil's launch is being closely watched because it's expected to help usher in an era of so-called "personalized" medicine in which treatments are increasingly tailored to individuals' genetic make-ups. BiDil is a combination of two drugs that boosts the amounts of nitric oxide in the blood -- a substance found in lower levels in some blacks that has several roles in heart health.
NitroMed's advertising will begin a month after the small company withdrew a forecast predicting $20 million in BiDil sales this year. BiDil revenue during the first six months of this year totaled just $5.2 million. When the drug was approved, some analysts suggested the drug could reach $200 million in sales as soon as next year.
Moussatos said sales have lagged in part because many physicians continue prescribing two older drugs as less-expensive alternatives to BiDil.
Jones, who wouldn't disclose the upcoming ad campaign's cost, said the print ads will run in daily, weekly and monthly publications geared toward blacks.