Thursday, February 7, 2013

Merck Does Well By Doing Good -- HIV+ Public Awareness/Treatment Conversation-Starter

To be clear, Merck's Isentress® franchise is truly a breakthrough therapy. It is literally a life saving medicine. And it is priced like it, as well. I applaud today's efforts, by Merck. Smart business, welded to a compassionate posture -- that's what is going on here.

Even so, various private parties (AHF and CalPERS among them) have advocated for additional "affordability" programs -- from the federal government and private insurance payers -- as well as from Merck itself (which already provides a pretty decent one, BTW).

And that is critical -- if 90 percent of the HIV+ population cannot afford the $17,000 or so per year annual treatment cost, in the US -- much of the miracle is lost. In addition, Merck may not recoup its perhaps $1 billion investment in developing the drug. So, today, Merck offers a series of initiatives, all ultimately aimed at getting the patient to fill out a conversation starter/checklist -- and speak to his/her doctor, about whether Isentress will be an option for treatment. Again -- smart. Smart. Smart.

Here is a bit of the Yahoo! version of today's Whitehouse Station announcement:

. . . .Merck today announced that Duane Cramer, an acclaimed photographer and HIV advocate, is joining the national HIV education campaign I Design. Duane has partnered with Project Runway star Mondo Guerra, who served as the voice of the campaign in 2012, to help empower people living with HIV to work with their doctors and approach HIV treatment “through their own lens.” The I Design campaign traveled the United States in 2012, and is embarking on its second year on the road this National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day,including the launch of interactive digital tools to help with HIV management on

“As a person who has lived with HIV for a long time, I’ve learned that self-expression is incredibly important, especially when it comes to working with my doctor on a treatment plan,” said Cramer. “I am thrilled to join Merck and Mondo on theI Design campaign and to be kicking off the second year of this successful initiative on National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. I look forward to helping people living with HIV understand the importance of an open and ongoing dialogue with their healthcare provider to manage this chronic disease.”

An internationally known photographer, Duane has lived with HIV for nearly two decades. He is also a passionate activist for HIV awareness and education, particularly for the African-American community, who are disproportionately affected by the disease. . . .

This is a worthwhile use of Merck's corporate resources, as it is likely to drive additional penetration for the high-margin, high-priced Isentress franchise.

Finally, as an update on the status of the franchise, I should note that GSK has -- as of December 18, 2012 -- submitted its once a day dolutegravir HIV+ treatment cadidate for FDA approval, via an NDA filing.

And so, Merck may have some real competition in this space -- perhaps as soon as July 2013. We shall see, but my hunch is that GSK will price dolutegravir above the twice a day regimen of Merck's Isentress. [See graphic at lower right.]

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