Why Sharon Debacco is a Trailblazer in the DTC World

Recently, the LINZESS team has won a lot of awards for its DTC efforts. In these days, when awards are often given like confetti, this team truly deserves recognition. LINZESS is without a doubt a poster child for great DTC advertising. Sharon cut her teeth on DTC marketing in the early days of patient marketing. Working with the strategic team (referred as the Shark Fin Project), she was a key player in the development of the approach intended to sustain revenue AZ knew it would lose once PRILOSEC went LOE.  

Nexium Comes Onto the Market Strong

Recognizing this threat, AstraZeneca carefully planned the launch of NEXIUM. Sharon's team was charged with developing a consumer strategy that would enable NEXIUM to pick up the baton from PRILOSEC. PRILOSEC had become one of the most recognizable drugs in the world, in no small part due to branding around its color. Advertising had emphasized purple. Instead of walking away from this equity, the team decided to build on it, telling patients they should ask their doctors about "today's purple pill, from the makers of PRILOSEC."  AstraZeneca emphasized that this medication was an improvement on PRILOSEC, the next generation.  With a very large marketing budget (the biggest ever seen in the industry) the brand stood out.  And easily beat its primary competition, PREVACID.

Never One to Rest on Her Laurels—The Rise of Linzess

After a series of additional home runs at AZ, including her efforts for the CRESTOR brand, Sharon decided to try something different. In 2012, she joined Ironwood Pharma and began working on LINZESS. This novel drug was launched into the market in 2012 to treat IBS-C.  At the time, the patients with the condition were not receiving good treatment for the condition.  Patients often relied on OTC medications for years.  As Sharon introduced the brand, she was facing competition from AMITIZA, an E1 (PGE 1) derivative that was approved 2008. Takeda placed a strong emphasis on HCP efforts behind marketing for AMITIZA. Their patient communication program included some very odd attempts to get patient attention, such as a beaver that represented constipation. Revenue growth for AMITIZA was extremely sluggish. Not so for LINZESS.  Following the launch of the brand, DTC marketing contributed heavily to the increase of  TRx, up 21% compared with the pre-DTC-launch trend.  Revenue was $138M in the first year.  Campaigns over the following two years increased revenues for the brand by 27% and then 30% respectively.  Sharon guided her team in the development of these highly successful campaigns.

Taking DTC Marketing To The Bank

Many companies and their agencies like to brag about the originality or flare of their DTC efforts. However, very few bring evidence to the table to show that it is paying off. In the years from 2012 to today, LINZESS has grown into a blockbuster brand. Meanwhile its primary competitor, AMITIZA, was lucky to eke out $120M in sales for 2020. Where is the difference? We believe LINZESS was so successful because it had a story to tell.  The company used insights from patient research to identify and deliver a story that was highly compelling to patients with the condition.  Commenting on the development of its DTC campaign, Mark Rosseti (Senior Director at Ironwood) said, “we’ve been very fortunate that we’ve been able to uncover insights that have led to broadening the appeal and motivation of each campaign."

Patient Communication Is Helping To Remove Stigma

Stigma is one of the greatest barriers to treatment of the condition.  Not very long ago, the majority of patients would wait up to five years before using a medication to treat serious IBS.  That is where patient communication is coming in, to make it OK to talk about the problem.  After years of being in the closet, patients feel more comfortable speaking with their doctors about IBS.  These days, Twitter and TikTok are full of posts about the condition.  Hashtags like #guttok and #ibstok, which together account for over half a billion views, can also set users on a path of seeking out more information about concerns they might have brushed away.   LINZESS can offer them relief.

So Hats Off To Sharon and the LINZESS Team

Marketing from Ironwood helped to get us to this place, where patients can feel more comfortable to treat the condition.  The DTC marketing is helping to promote sales and improve the lives of patients that suffer from this condition.  Hats off to the team, which continues to win awards for these marketing efforts.  You give us faith that sometimes awards are more than just a "beauty contest" intended to attract attendees to conferences. Sharon, we'll be watching to see what your next effort will be. We're sure that it will be good!