Focus on MS patients
Multiple sclerosis, a chronic and potentially debilitating disease, affects some 450,000 people in the US, and over two million
lives globally. Symptoms occur due to an autoimmune attack on nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord, which can damage
the protective myelin coating and lead to scarring and nerve damage. As with most autoimmune diseases, the causes of MS aren't
well understood; an inflammatory response in the body can be as harmful as it is helpful, and no one is sure exactly what
triggers an appearance of Mr. Hyde from the typically Jekyllian, and protective, human immune system.
As a result, MS can feel to otherwise young and healthy patients like it has fallen, unduly, from a clear blue sky. The effects
of nerve demyelination present in many different ways, from subtle pain or blurry vision, to an inability to stand or speak,
with a host of other problems in between. Symptoms—in the case of patients with relapsing-remitting MS—can suddenly dissipate
into thin air as quickly as they arrived, only to reconstitute days, months, or even years later. Not knowing when or to what
degree the symptoms will return can be a nightmarish predicament for MS patients, akin to cancer patients in remission long
enough to almost forget they had the disease.
The unpredictable progression of MS (along with the failure of available drugs to halt it) is maybe the worst aspect of the
disease. Does waking up with stiffness or numb legs indicate a new MS exacerbation, or is it simply due to an especially vigorous
exercise effort the day before? When only time can tell, the clock and calendar become sinister partners in an unwelcome alliance;
MS patients, a population that skews toward but isn't limited to women in the prime of their lives, can't afford to sit around
and wait for what may or may not happen next.
That's why disease awareness is critical, says Melyssa Weible, president of Rx Mosaic Health, a New York-based "specialty-only"
PR shop under the Omnicom umbrella. Rx Mosaic has worked on Copaxone for nine years. "When we started working with Teva, MS
wasn't oncology, it wasn't being mentioned every day in the news," says Weible. "That's no longer the case."
MS is at least two to three times more common in women than men, and possibly more than that, according to the National Multiple
Sclerosis Society (NMSS). But Teva's celebrity faces of the disease are men: country music star Clay Walker, and Jack Osbourne,
a media personality and the son of Black Sabbath front man Ozzy Osbourne.
Jack Osbourne’s documentary-style webisodes offer a candid view of life with MS.
Both men have worked with Teva on disease awareness initiatives—Clay Walker has taken Copaxone for 15 years, says Teva—and
Jack Osbourne's surprise diagnosis two summers ago led to a series of candid online webisodes about living with MS, and the
misconceptions people have about the disease.
Teva’s patient switch campaign, seen here in a People magazine cover buy, emphasizes the "freedom" of convenience.
"You Don't Know Jack About MS," the joint project sponsored by Teva and created by Osbourne's production company, Schweet
Entertainment, debuted last December. Teva also donated $100,000 to the NMSS in recognition of Osbourne's work as an MS advocate
and his participation on "Dancing with the Stars," a reality TV program. The webisodes, available at http://YouDontKnowJackAboutMS.com/, feature Osbourne as man on the street, attending a MS patient gathering, and managing family life with a young daughter.
Weible says the decision to go with documentary-style webisodes is a reflection of Osbourne's persona and interests. "We wanted
to maintain the authenticity that comes with him...he's a reality TV star," says Weible.
During a webisode titled "Many Symptoms," Osbourne and five other patients recount the stories of their first symptoms and
diagnosis. The individual experiences vary dramatically, reminding one of the patients of a quote from a physician: "Once
you've seen one case of MS, you've seen one case of MS." Osbourne, for example, first visited the doctor due to the sudden
onset of blindness in his right eye. Another patient felt an extreme numbness in his leg, and, after attempting to walk it
off for 17 minutes, couldn't walk anymore. This discrepancy in the initial symptoms of MS can make an early diagnosis difficult.
Osbourne was diagnosed with MS a year and half after his first symptoms emerged, he says.
Clay Walker was diagnosed in 1996, at the age of 26, after experiencing symptoms, including tingling, numbness, and facial
spasms. A long-time Copaxone user, Walker has remained active in promoting disease awareness and education. Ten years ago,
Walker founded a charity called Band Against MS, and has continued to speak out on behalf of MS patients, and to hold fundraising
events. In March 2013, Band Against MS and Teva worked together for a public service announcement campaign intended to remind
patients about the importance of adhering to their medications. Titled "Stick With It"—in reference to the daily injections
most patients must give themselves—the campaign launched a Facebook page and Teva agreed to make a $1 donation for every "like,"
up to $25,000.
Since Copaxone is the most prescribed and best-selling MS drug on the market, it makes sense for Teva to invest in non-branded,
educational campaigns. After all, if most new patients get a prescription for Copaxone, making more people aware of the symptoms,
and the importance of treatment, means more prescriptions and sales. Weible says the goal of the celebrity campaigns is to
"share the patient experience with newly-diagnosed patients who may feel isolated, or for patients who have MS and have been
treating it for a while," she says. "Dealing with a chronic condition can be isolating and lonely, and patients want to hear
from a 'patient like me,' a real-life story," she says.
Teva and Rx Mosaic assisted in hosting a Twitter conference on March 14, 2012, in partnership with the NMSS. "I think we were
the first people to ever do a Twitter conference for an ethical healthcare product," says Weible. "We connected a doctor (Dr.
Gabriel Pardo, @DocforMS), Clay Walker, and MS patients, and they were able to ask questions in real-time...we were thrilled
with the amount of people that participated." The Twitter conference wasn't Copaxone-branded, but participants asked Dr. Pardo
questions about Copaxone and several other MS products. It's hard to tell from Twitter how many people participated, and Walker
(@ClayWalker) did tweet a link to Copaxone's product information at the conclusion of the one-hour event. The conference hasn't
been repeated since, but it exists online as proof that pharma can engage patients using social media channels like Facebook