- Merck & Co. on Monday unveiled a new direct-to-consumer (DTC) ad for its star cancer immunotherapy Keytruda (pembrolizumab), taking care to underscore its competitive edge over Bristol-Myers Squibb's rival Opdivo (nivolumab).
- In October, Keytruda became the first checkpoint inhibitor to gain approval from the Food and Drug Administration as a first-line treatment for NSCLC. It's an accomplishment that Keytruda holds over Opdivo, which failed a Phase 3 trial for that indication last year.
- The new ad continues an initiative Merck started November to raise awareness about NSCLC and the benefits of its drug. The move is also a new direction for Merck, which has favored medical journal ads for Keytruda to date, as opposed to DTC campaigns.
Bristol-Myers, meanwhile, is no stranger to DTC ads for Opdivo. The company released its own in 2015, though some have criticized the commercial for being misleading, particularly when it comes to how much longer a cancer patient can expect to live by taking Opdivo.
There are several parallels to that commercial in Merck's new ad.
Bristol-Myers' ad uses the tag line "a chance to live longer." In Merck's commercial, a narrator similarly intones "a chance to live longer" following a (lengthy) description of Keytruda's possible side effects.
A key difference between the ads is the targeted population, however. Merck's 90-second ad follows the story of Sharon, who had been diagnosed with NSCLC and expected to receive chemotherapy. With approval in first-line NSCLC in hand, Merck emphasizes that Keytruda can be used before chemo for patients with high PD-L1 levels.
Bristol-Myers, on the other hand, can only advertise use among patients who were previously treated with platinum chemotherapy.
The Merck ad has aired 144 times nationally as of midday Wednesday and cost the company $1.2 million across Monday and Tuesday, according to television ad analytics provider iSpot.tv.
As the only company with a cancer immunotherapy approved in first-line, Merck appears to be stepping up its efforts to cement its brand before competitors manage to expand the labels for their drugs.