Sunovion's New Schizophrenia Drug Ad Trashes the Patient

Last Updated Feb 15, 2011 12:02 PM EST

Sunovion's launch web site for its new schizophrenia drug Latuda uses an image of a man literally cracking up into pieces as his mother looks on adoringly. The bizarre image shows a smiling schizophrenia patient who is either falling apart or has gone to pieces and, presumably, been put back together by the power of Latuda (click to enlarge images):

It's not the first misstep in psychiatric drug marketing. AstraZeneca (AZN) once ran an ad featuring a chart that suggested a schizophrenic would call his mom more often if he took higher doses of Seroquel.

And the antidepressant Pristiq was launched with a campaign from the Wyeth unit of Pfizer (PFE) -- which is still on air -- that depicts depressed people as broken clockwork toys who only need to be wound up again.

It's not just neuroscience companies that inadvertently trash the people they're trying to help. In the area of HIV, Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY) and Gilead (GILD) once commissioned a "psycho-ethnographic" study for Atripla which described some patient groups as "masochists" and "narcissists."
Sunovion has a lot riding on the Latuda launch. It has employed a salesforce of 336 people to target 22,000 psychiatrists. Latuda's advantage is that it does not trigger the weight gain seen with AstraZeneca's Seroquel or Eli Lilly's Zyprexa. It does have a bunch of other weird side effects, however.

Marketing schizophrenia drugs is difficult. You risk offending patients simply by depicting their symptoms, which sometimes include paranoid delusions. For that reason, companies frequently avoid depicting the condition in ads in favor of describing it in text. On top of that, Sunovion is inexperienced in this area -- it has never promoted an antipsychotic before (the company is best-known for its sleeping pill, Lunesta).

Another issue is whether anyone will care: The "cracking up" image appears on the Latuda website targeting doctors. There is a separate web site for consumers without that imagery.

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