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Myriad Goes Direct (Again)

Myriad Genetic Laboratories develops and markets proprietary predictive and personalized medicine products. This includes the poorly branded BRACAnalysis, to assess a woman's risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer based on detection of mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. The test is reimbursed by most insurance carriers and is recommended for women with a family history of breast or ovarian cancers.

The company’s first advertising campaign began in 2002 and lasted five months. Airing in Atlanta and Denver, Myriad intended to raise awareness of cancer prevention through television, radio and print media. The direct-to-consumer (DTC) campaign stirred up some controversy in the process. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) worried that the ads could cause unnecessary worry among the general public (given that mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes occur in only a small percentage of women). The CDC commissioned a study in response and found that, not surprisingly, consumer awareness of the diagnostic test increased substantially in Atlanta and Denver compared to the control cities. Physicians reported more patients asking about and ordering a BRACAnalysis, but generally "were not able to address complexities around the test". The novelty of genetic testing at the time may have contributed to the knowledge gap, as did the lack of genetic counselors. At the time there were only 400 such counselors in the U.S. That number has since blossomed five-fold, though some believe genetic testing is still limited by a lack of qualified interpreters, especially in rural areas. This time around a direct-to-physician education component will precede the DTC campaign. Myriad will focus its marketing efforts in the southern U.S., principally Texas and Florida. The $8 million campaign will begin in September and run through March 2009. I’m speculating here, but I believe the company may have picked the southern U.S. simply because consumers in this area tend to be more responsive to advertising, at least in my own experience marketing a genetic taste test. I don’t want to go too far with the analogy, but some online advertising data supports the conclusion that that the people who click on ads are less educated, have lower household incomes, and are more likely to live outside of major metropolitan areas.

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