When it comes to survival, oncologists are no stranger to pharmaceutical brands who center their oncology treatments and corresponding advertisements around it. But to truly understand the importance of survival, we first have to understand what it means. The FDA defines overall survival as a clinical trial endpoint as “the time from randomization until death from any cause and is measured in the intent-to-treat population. Survival is considered the most reliable cancer endpoint, and when studies can be conducted to adequately assess survival, it is usually the preferred endpoint.” 

So, not surprisingly, overall survival (OS) is therefore the preferred endpoint of pharmaceutical marketers in the oncology space. In fact, any oncology therapy that has proven OS will feature it first and foremost in its advertising campaign.  Given years of extensive oncology experience, there are themes that remain consistent over time and across classes of therapy – from chemotherapy to targeted therapies to immunotherapy: 

  • Drugs are portrayed and often conveyed as active actors that create survival – breaking, holding, pushing, opening, building – heroic and powerful  

  • Patients are almost always portrayed as passive recipients of survival – smiling, sitting, little or no effort on their part  

  • Overall Survival is often portrayed as a lengthening – stretching, extending, building out or revealing more, or the actual KM curve  

  • Quality of that time is universally shown with patients enjoying family or activities  

Sound familiar? You’ve probably seen plenty of ads that bring those themes to life. But there’s another theme that is used most for our oncologists: the doctor as an Active Actor who is “creating” survival.  In a review of oncology advertisements over the last six years for therapies with OS data, you will typically see this theme presented through imagery of: 

  • Doctors building a road that represents longer OS 

  • Doctors breaking a wall to reveal a road that represents longer OS 

  • Doctors stopping train that is standing in the way of OS 

  • Doctors pushing to unroll paper printed with data (for progression-free survival, not OS) 

Those are some mighty doctors!  But even just their hands alone can be the Active Actor. Doctors’ white-sleeved hands have also been shown to create survival by:  

  • Pushing a button 

  • Handing a key  

  • Holding back tumor cells 

  • Holding back a “werewolf-ian” tumor 

  • Signing an Rx pad to complete a drawing of a patient fishing 

  • Drawing a bridge so a patient can continue on their horse-back journey 

  • Pointing at a galaxy  


What does this indicate? Oncologists want to see themselves as enabling both patient and drug success. When the oncologist is represented in an advertising campaign for an oncology therapeutic with survival data, that campaign acknowledges that, without the prescriber, the drug alone can’t be “the hero” but it can enable and empower the oncologist to do more for survival than they could before.  That’s the overarching communication strategy behind these and many other campaigns. 

What does this mean for anyone communicating the benefit of survival to an oncologist? Whether it is through advertising, or public relations, or medical education – remember, it may be imperative to keep them in the picture in order to earn their interest and engagement with your treatment. 

For additional oncology insights, check out the video below from Navicor's newest leaders Suzanne Goss and Richard Veal for a firsthand perspective.

About the Author:

Suzanne’s commitment to excellence in oncology strategy and communications has enabled her to demonstrate over 30 years of superior overall survival in healthcare advertising. She has developed brand, commercial, and communication strategy during pre-launch, launch, and LOE for iconic brands in the oncology space such as Gemzar, Avastin, Rituxan, and Keytruda. She is currently the executive vice president in charge of strategy for Syneos Communications oncology-only agency, Navicor.