Genentech Helps Patients Navigate 'Overwhelming' Breast Cancer Choices

It’s that scary moment of truth when the bad news is “positive” -- and Genentech, Roche’s biotech subsidiary, wants to help. “For anybody who’s been in the room at the time of a breast cancer diagnosis, I’m sure they can empathize with just how overwhelming everything is,” Carlos Oliveros, the company’s senior marketing manager, tells Pharma & Health Insider.

Now there’s a five-episode podcast titled “Recently Diagnosed? What To Expect, with Health Monitor” available on such channels as iHeart, Spotify and Podtail.

Each eight-to 10- minute episode features insights and tips from such experts as an oncologist, breast surgeon, nutrition therapist and clinical psychologist.

They also include one commercial spot apiece: a 39-second spiel for an info site called HER2 Empowered in the first three episodes, and a 56-second ad for another info site, HERConnection, in the final two episodes.



The HERConnection spot gives a big clue as to who’s behind those sites as sponsor of the podcast. HERConnection, the ad explains “is a free personalized support program for people with HER2+ early breast cancer who are taking Genentech medicines.” HER2+ is an aggressive form  that tests positive for a protein called human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2). This protein promotes the growth of cancer cells.

Genentech launched HERConnection about five years ago. It’s  focused  mainly on giving patients “information they need to stay on therapy they’ve been prescribed.” HER2 Empowered, launched last year, helps the newly diagnosed “navigate” though treatment options.

Both sites include info on three Genentech drugs that treat HER2+: Perjeta, Phesgo and Kadcyla.

But why the move to a podcast now? “We’re going where patients are,” Oliveros says, explaining that podcasts are joining such other tools as social media and point-of-care materials in Genentech’s marketing mix. “The nature of podcasts lends them really well to talk about complex issues like breast cancer.”

Oliveras stresses that while Genentech created the ads, the podcasts themselves were produced by the marketing platform Health Monitor (HM). Otherwise, he says, patients might perceive the editorial as “inauthentic.”

Not that Genentech hasn’t been a podcast producer itself, although in a very authentic way. Its series, “Two Scientists Walk Into a Bar,” focuses on Genentech scientists “tackling some of the biggest challenges in human biology.” With 30 episodes already available, the podcast finished its fourth season in December.

At around the same time, HMN was seeking for a way to get important information to patients. “A lot of patients when they leave the doctor’s office after they’re diagnosed with something, are sort of confused, don’t know what to do, or what their options are,” HM’s chief commercial officer Keith Sedlak tells Pharma & Health Insider. “What better way to give them information in their own personal environment that a podcast?”

“Genentech’s known to be a little bit more of thought leader in terms of digital-only tactics and strategies, so when we conceived on this podcast idea, they were the first one that we went to,” Sedlak explains. “This was a great environment for an unbranded message with unbranded calls to action.”

In addition to search optimization, another audience-drawing technique used by Health Monitor was an email announcing the podcast to 25,000 breast cancer sufferers who had consented to receive patient education materials. That list, however, couldn't narrow down those who are specifically HER2+, but Sedlak says open rates have been positive, as well as “consumption of the podcast. For those who play it, over 90% listen to the podcasts to completion….Completion of plays tells you I got to the right audience.”

“We’re starting to see that maybe we’re in the right place, where podcasts can be in our strategy,” Oliveros says. “I think we’re going to continue to keep podcasts in our marketing mix.”

Sedlak says that HM is talking to Genetech and its agency, CMI, about sponsoring another season next year. “If they want to go into another oncology indication, that would be great.”

Oliveros says a decision will be reached “later in the year, depending on the timelines of new launches.”

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