Live from Cannes Lions: Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma America launched the first FDA-approved treatment for ALS in 22 years.

Debbie Etchison, Head of Public Affairs and Corporate Communications at Mitsubishi, explained that they were entering a disease state that was shaped by the Ice Bucket Challenge, a movement that become a global phenomenon with more than 17 million people uploading videos and $220 million raised.

That campaign taught the world about ALS, a neurodegenerative disease that leaves a patient’s brain largely intact but slowly steals all of their other functions, ultimately resulting in death for most 2 – 5 years after diagnosis.

There isn’t a cure but Radicava slows the progression of some symptoms. When it launched, word of the possibility spread widely. But there was more work to do to make the treatment successful for patients.

The treatment regimen is one that would be difficult for people at the peak of health let alone when they had just received the hardest news of their lives and their bodies are fighting against them. The treatment starts with a daily 1-hour infusion, followed by on and off schedules that vary from 10 days to 1 month. The treatment is only given in infusion centers, which requires transportation and coordination with care partners.

That kind of complex treatment needed a simple tool to make it all much more achievable.

Mitsubishi Tanabe ultimately built a mobile companion to support every aspect of patient care:

  • Pre-infusion: education, treatment planning, reminders
  • During infusion: meditation, mini games
  • Post infusion positive reinforcement, social caring


The team learned from what works in healthcare and far beyond it. One success factor: be incredibly contextual, giving people that one thing they need right now, like Uber, Mangohealth, etc., do.  Keith Atchison, Senior Marketing Manager Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma America emphasized, “One screen, one message, what matters in that moment.”

The app is called SearchlightSupport.

It lets users personalize the digital coach, set appointments with both a wide number of medical professionals and the various caregivers and partners who help them be successful in their care.

A large part of the experience is unbranded but there are key areas that have Radicava treatment information. The development team worked with regulatory experts to contextualize the ISI – meaning its only in the parts of the app where its relevant to the content.

To encourage people to download the app, an invitation is included in every start kit. Clinical educators walk them through the details of the app and show them how it could help. Searchlight is also promoted thought branded emails and digital reminders.

The product roadmap includes tools for caregivers and HCPS as well as new interfaces that leverage conversational support.

About the Author:

As Managing Director of Innovation for Syneos Health Communications, Leigh is responsible for shaping the company’s perspective on the next era of healthcare marketing. Through thought leadership, strategic innovation workshops and new products and capabilities, Leigh focuses on identifying marketing approaches that will fuel that new era and generate significant growth for clients. Leigh has worked with Fortune 1000 companies to craft their digital, mobile, social and CRM strategies for over 17 years. She’s worked for category-leading agencies in retail, public affairs, B2B technology, and higher education. Prior to moving to Syneos Health Communications, she had several leadership roles at one of our agencies, GSW. There, she founded an innovation practice fueled by the zeitgeist and spearheaded digital and innovation thinking across the business. Leigh has taken a special interest in complex healthcare products that can change lives in meaningful ways. She was recently a strategic lead on the 3rd largest launch in pharmaceutical history: Tecfidera. Before that she had keys roles with Eli Lilly Oncology, Abbott Nutrition, Amgen Cardiovascular, and Eli Lilly Diabetes. A critical part of Leigh’s work is trends and new ideas. Every year, she convenes a group of trend watchers from across our global network to identify the shifts most critical to healthcare marketers. Leigh is a sought-after writer and speaker. Recognized as one of the most inspiring people in the pharmaceutical industry by PharmaVoice, Leigh also was recognized as a Rising Star by the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association (HBA) for her overt passion, industry thought leadership and significant contributions in new business, strategy and mentoring.