TV Drug Ad Targets Blind People - Whaaa?! | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |

Vanda Pharmaceuticals has bought more than $29 million worth of air time in the past two years for a TV ad blitz aimed at raising awareness of a rare sleep disorder for which Vanda makes the only approved drug.


The ad campaign ranks in the top-50 most expensive TV promotions for prescription drugs over the past two years, according to the media research firm It’s part of a surge in ads meant to raise awareness of conditions that affect small patient populations — and the pricey drugs that treat them.


Vanda’s drug, sold as Hetlioz, costs $148,000 a year, 76 percent more than when it was first introduced in 2014, according to the research firm Truven Health Analytics. Fewer than 1,000 patients in the United States take the drug, which is aimed at completely blind people with the disorder.


So why did Vanda turn to the TV airwaves?


Non-24 sleep-wake disorder, often called “non-24,” is a circadian rhythm disorder in which the body clock is out of sync with the 24-hour cycle of night and day. It’s believed to affect tens of thousands of the more than 100,000 people in the US who are completely blind (and therefore unable to perceive the light changes that would normally regulate their sleep patterns), as well as a small number of people who can see. People with the disorder suffer from drowsiness that may cause them to miss work and school.


Jim Kelly, Vanda’s chief financial officer, said the idea to run TV ads came from focus groups with blind people.


Produced by the agency Merkley+Partners, the Vanda ad featuring the blind woman at home never mentions Hetlioz. A male narrator urges the audience to talk to a doctor about symptoms and provides a phone number and website run by Vanda offering resources about the disorder. “Don’t let non-24 get in the way of your pursuit of happiness,” the woman implores her audience in the ad’s closing moments.


Many blind people listen to TV shows and movies with the help of special technology that narrates action on the screen for them. But the tech isn’t used for TV ads, including Vanda’s. That leaves blind people to rely on sighted family and friends in the room, if they’re available, to narrate what’s going on on-screen.


Did it work?


The company sure thinks so. On an earnings call with investors on Wednesday, Vanda CEO Dr. Mihael Polymeropoulos cited contact with patients prompted by the ad campaign as “the main driver” of new demand for Hetlioz.