Extricating Exanta: Astrazeneca Battles To Protect Pipeline Medication
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Extricating Exanta: Astrazeneca Battles To Protect Pipeline Medication

AstraZeneca (AZ), a top five pharmaceutical company, had just completed clinical trials for its highly promising pipeline anticoagulant, Exanta. The first oral anticoagulant to treat the 300,000 Americans who develop life-threatening blood clots each yea

Paul Holmes

AstraZeneca (AZ), a top five pharmaceutical company, had just completed clinical trials for its highly promising pipeline anticoagulant, Exanta.  The first oral anticoagulant to treat the 300,000 Americans who develop life-threatening blood clots each year, Exanta was well on its way to being recognized as the first major advance in oral anticoagulation in nearly 50 years and a major contributor to AZ’s bottom line.  An important milestone for the drug was a presentation of the trial data at the prestigious annual meeting of the International Society of Thrombosis and Hemostasis (ISTH), where AZ planned to announce significant and positive Exanta study results. 

Unexpectedly, just three weeks before the meeting, a Bloomberg reporter singled out one minor trial result (a mild and transient side effect) in a glaring headline:  “AstraZeneca’s Stroke Treatment Linked to Higher Liver Enzymes.”  The article launched a domino effect of bad publicity.  Reuters and Scrip followed with reports that the Banc of America Securities had downgraded its recommendation of AstraZeneca, resulting in decreased sales expectations for Exanta.  The tide of bad publicity was now threatening to erode stakeholder and media support and stain the brand reputation of a potentially lifesaving anticoagulant that AZ had already spent several years and significant investment researching and developing.  Tasked with reversing this tide of negative publicity, Ketchum had only two weeks before the crucial ISTH meeting, where hundreds of opinion leaders would gather. 

Research

A review of three damaging Exanta articles by Bloomberg, Reuters and Scrip magazine revealed the reporters’ inclination to focus on the side-effect issue, almost exclusively.  The team realized the need to focus on educating influencers about the drug’s benefits and accurately characterizing the risk-benefit ratio of the drug.  Ketchum developed a strategy for ensuring that all AZ spokespeople communicated with a unified voice and prepared them for all potential issues, including concerns mentioned in early articles.
An advance copy of the ISTH agenda revealed that Exanta would be highlighted as a “key drug to watch,” and so Ketchum realized the importance of using the ISTH as a platform to “set the record straight” about Exanta, putting the side effect issue in proper context and promoting the drug’s benefits to the hundreds of opinion leaders who would attend the meeting.
Ketchum identified reporters that would be covering ISTH and interviewed them to determine their level of knowledge on anticoagulation issues, including the Exanta side-effect issue.  The team also evaluated the coverage these reporters had given to related topics in the past.  This research allowed the team to create a customized media strategy for key reporters.

Planning

Objective:  
Reverse Perception of Exanta in the Analyst Community to Improve Stock Recommendation

Strategy: 
Promote Benefits of Exanta to Influencers at ISTH

Audience: 
Analysts, Media, Cardiologists/Hematologists

Execution

Task Force 
To communicate to influencers with a unified voice and to proactively address issues that might arise at ISTH, Ketchum assembled a Global Brand Protection Task Force comprised of senior representatives from European and U.S. AZ and Ketchum teams.  The goal was to develop issues management strategies and tactics relating to the side-effect issue and to ensure all internal stakeholders reached universal agreement on these plans

Developed comprehensive materials, including key messages and Q&A documents and created communication protocol for media and thought leader inquiries

Spokespeople
Organized ISTH management conference calls with over 20 senior representatives from AZ, Ketchum and medical agencies spanning three time zones.  The calls were conducted to troubleshoot issues, secure agreement on next steps and ensure understanding of protocols

Developed and conducted customized message training sessions for 20 AZ spokespeople and ISTH influencers; ensured each presenter understood the need to accurately deliver specific Exanta messages, including the benefits it could bring to thousands of patients at risk for blood clots

Conducted three group staff briefings onsite at ISTH for over 150 AZ personnel to reinforce need to communicate with ‘one voice’ about Exanta and to review communication protocols

Thought Leaders:
To ensure that the side-effect issue was explained accurately and put into the proper context within the Exanta clinical profile, Ketchum worked with AZ’s medical education agency to prepare a slide that was shown to over 900 physician thought leaders at the Exanta symposium at ISTH

Ketchum played an instrumental role in preparing four symposium speakers to handle potential questions and issues that might arise during the symposium

Message-trained Dr. Sylvia Haas – highly credible third-party physician involved in development of older competitor class – on issues facing Exanta to prepare for symposium and possible follow-up interviews

Media:
Identified key reporters from international and U.S. publications that target Exanta audiences; coordinated with Task Force to develop strategy for customized media outreach

Ketchum aggressively “worked the floor” at ISTH to track down reporters whose favorable coverage of Exanta could help stem the tide of bad publicity.  The team targeted AP and Scrip and worked tenaciously to secure interviews with them for AZ spokesperson, Dr. Sylvia Haas.

Evaluation

Objective:  Reverse Perception of Exanta in the Analyst Community to Improve Stock Recommendation

Target:  Analysts
Less than six months after ISTH, the Banc of America Securities’ significantly upgraded AZ stock.  Analyst Chris Spooner said “…there could be substantial upside … to the market potential of the anticoagulant Exanta.”

Target:  Media
Bloomberg followed up on its earlier negative coverage of the Exanta study with positive coverage that avoided all mention of the side-effect issue; a second Scrip and Reuters article mentioned the issue, but also emphasized the positive aspects of the trial 

The interview Ketchum coordinated with Dr. Hass and AP resulted in a very positive article, touting key messages: “The results showed that Exanta could dramatically improve the quality of life of millions of people… ”

Secured 184 positive media placements that reached over 16 million people, including physicians and consumers

A message analysis of Exanta publicity revealed that 100% of coverage included positive product messages of Exanta, while less than 1% mentioned the side-effect issue

Top daily newspapers, including the Denver Post, emphasized unmet needs in anticoagulation and Exanta’s role in meeting those needs, explaining it “…appears to overcome the shortcomings of current medicines”

Target:  Professionals
900 influential medical professionals and reporters from across the world attended AZ symposium and not one addressed the side-effect issue during the Q&A

Ketchum’s crucial preparation before ISTH was instrumental in quelling the tide of bad publicity and igniting a current of positive coverage, salvaging the brand reputation of a potentially life-saving anticoagulant

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