Alternative Media: Centocor Documentary Turns Camera on Patients

May 1, 2007
Pharmaceutical Executive

Volume 0, Issue 0

The lights were hot, the cameras were flashing, and the B-list celebrities were out in full force for the New York premiere of InnerState, an hour-long documentary following the lives of three individuals who are using biologic drugs to combat different diseases.

The lights were hot, the cameras were flashing, and the B-list celebrities were out in full force for the New York premiere of InnerState, an hour-long documentary following the lives of three individuals who are using biologic drugs to combat different diseases.

Michael Parks, centocor

Sounds like your typical movie launch, but check out the credits and you'll discover one glaring difference—Centocor, the biologic arm of Johnson & Johnson, produced the film. Pharma, it seems, has entered the movie biz.

Pharm Exec attended the screening and caught up with Michael Parks, vice president of corporate communications for Centocor, to learn how pharma can harness movies for health education.

What did you set out to accomplish when you made this documentary?

We thought about the complexity of the diseases that we're treating and realized we needed a vehicle that would allow us enough real estate to explore [the diseases and the treatments] in a lot of depth. We get feedback from patients all the time about their experiences with their disease, the decision process they went through with their physician to find the right treatment, concerns about starting a new treatment as it relates to benefit and risk, and how the treatment worked for them.

Hearing those stories gave us the idea that if you could, in the format of a documentary, communicate all of these messages through the voice of the patient in an unscripted way, you might have something very powerful.

InnerState premiered in New York City in late February and is being submitted to film festivals. Centocor hopes to have the film in theaters soon.

How did you find the patients who are in the film?

It was a very long and difficult process. I think we honed in on about 40 different patients and went through a series of interviews with them to get their bio and their life experiences. And we narrowed that list down to about 12 patients that we captured on camera. What we were really looking for was a patient who represented the other patients who suffer from that condition.

We chose the final three candidates based on their overall willingness to allow us to come into their homes and into their families and their workplaces and engrain ourselves in their lives to get down to the root of their story.

Were the patients paid to be in the film?

We were not willing to pay the patients to be involved in this documentary. That was one criterion that we felt very strongly about. And what was really interesting was that out of all the patients that we interviewed, nobody wanted payment. They were very passionate about speaking about their condition and thought the idea was novel and something that they wanted to be a part of.

What was the biggest challenge of making InnerState?

I think the biggest challenge was trying to explain the idea to stakeholders inside and outside the company, because nobody had ever done this before. When you talk about a documentary, everybody has his or her own preconceived notion of what a documentary is and what it should look like. It wasn't until we actually had a rough cut of the film that people realized what we were trying to accomplish.

What did your stakeholders think when they saw it?

When we had the rough cut and people saw it, some said, "Oh, this makes sense. You're not pushing a brand name out there." Forty-seven minutes of the 58-minute film are dedicated to exploring the disease from beginning to end, and it's all done through the voice of the patients. There were concerns about whether this was going to be an infomercial or just an hour-long direct-to-consumer advertisement, and I think what people realize now is that is absolutely not what this movie is.

Why did you decide to keep the drugs in the film unbranded? Are you concerned that this documentary is going to benefit the competition?

The intent was not to push the brand name through us. The intent was to educate patients and the general public about these conditions. We wanted to raise awareness of these diseases so that society is more accepting of the conditions. And it was very important that nobody perceived InnerState as a covert way of trying to deliver branded messages.

We had all brand messages removed from the film. And, ironically, the only brand mentioned in the entire film is not a Centocor or J&J product. It's actually a competitor's product.

There is a small but vocal group of people on the Internet complaining about the film. Why do you think there's so much emotion surrounding a film like this?

I think the majority of the people who are criticizing the film are skeptical based on what they've seen in the past, and that they have not actually seen the film. I would challenge them to come to the same conclusion after having watched it.

The final third of the film is a bit jarring because it switches gears from the health history right into biologics. Was that intentional?

We tested it with other parties outside, and what's really interesting is the people who are looking for the infomercial aspect of the film typically have that feeling. But what's very important to us is how this comes across to the patients. And the patient feedback that we get is, "You know what? It's good to know that there are people out there like me that have gone through the same mental roller coaster that I've gone through with my disease—that I'm not alone out there." We didn't go right into the wonders of biologics.

In our mind, if one patient leaves the theater and goes to his physician and has an informative and balanced discussion about the benefits and risks of any product, then we've done our job. It served a purpose, and that's really what was the intention behind this film.

It just felt like the film moved a little too quickly. You have transitions from the history of the patient right into biologics as the solution.

It's certainly a valid point in terms of what your experience was. And, actually, we are beginning some focus groups to see if patients are walking away with the messages that I just described to you. Is it having the impact that we're hoping it does? And I think that if that's a widespread concern or a widespread observation that it will definitely come out through these focus groups.

Was the cost of the drugs something that you purposely left out?

This was unscripted, and, frankly, cost did not come up with any of the patients that we interviewed.

Did you pay for their treatments?

No, absolutely not. Had the patients brought up concerns about the costs or difficulty receiving reimbursement for the therapy, that would be something that we probably would have included in the film.

So it wasn't a direct omission by any stretch, but in terms of the patients that were captured in the film, they are very representative of the patients we treat.

Why did you feel the need to include a disclaimer at the end of the film?

That's a very valid question, and that's something that we're also going to look at in these focus groups. The honest truth is that the industry we're currently in is heavily regulated. Even when you come up with a novel idea, such as presenting the story of patients in a unbranded way, there are still requirements from the FDA that you have to adhere to. And we worked very closely with FDA consultants, people who had worked for the FDA or DDMAC at some point in time, and had them evaluate the film.

Does it land on people in a way that may be unfavorable? We don't know. Hopefully, the focus groups will give us some more guidance on that and give us information that we could actually take back to the FDA for a discussion about what is necessary and what is not. Until then, this is something that we feel accurately covers the important safety information associated with all biologics, including ours.

What advice do you have for companies that are considering making long-form direct-to-patient videos?

Any time you're breaking new ground and are trying to find new ways to communicate with the general public or physicians, you have to be aware of the environment that you're launching these innovative ideas into. We're currently at a point in time where there are a lot of discussions on the Hill and in the media about direct-to-consumer activities and marketing practices. We strongly feel that, even though we're breaking ground, we have to adhere to the policies and the regulations that have been put in place. By doing so, hopefully we will continue to put innovative programs out there and continue to build trust within the general public.

Do you see feature-length health-education movies as a DTC medium that might catch on?

I think so. Just given the response that we have had from the general public, from physicians, from patients, from patient-advocacy groups, we've found something that resonates with people. I would find it hard to believe that this is not reproduced in some way, shape, or form.