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Cancer Test Developer Goes DTC

Myriad Genetics is preparing to test a direct-to-consumer campaign for its medical tests that determine hereditary susceptibility to breast and ovarian cancer, the first time such a test has been marketed to the public.

The BRACAnalysis test, which looks for mutations in two genes that impart a high risk of breast and ovarian cancer, so far has been marketed strictly to cancer centers and doctors. That will change this fall, when Myriad Genetics, which developed the test and discovered the two problematic genes, tests its direct response television, print and radio campaign in Denver and Atlanta.

Women who have mutations on the genes, which were discovered by Myriad Genetics, have up to an 87 percent chance of contracting breast cancer and up to a 44 percent chance of contracting ovarian cancer, the company said.

Those who test positive for the mutations can receive extra monitoring and preventative care to head off cancer before it may develop.

Patients must consult a medical professional and receive counseling before taking the test. A doctor or medical professional takes a blood sample, and the sample is sent to Myriad Genetics for analysis.

Myriad has 100 salespeople, who until recently have been marketing the test to medical centers that specialize in oncology. From the time the product debuted in 1996, the number of centers that offer the test has grown from 12 to 350.

Myriad Genetics has generated controversy among some members of the medical community who view direct marketing of genetic cancer tests with suspicion. The test costs $745 to $2,760, and doctors estimate that only 5 percent to 10 percent of cancers are genetically based.

However, Gregory Critchfield, president of Myriad Genetics, Salt Lake City, said he thinks the stakes are too high to neglect advertising the tests to the public.

“We feel we have to get the technology out,” he said. “If we don't, people will die.”

This summer, 600 sales agents from Laboratory Corp. of America Holdings will market the BRACAnalysis test to 200,000 physicians nationwide contacted face to face through professional organizations, meetings and conferences and insurance companies. This phase of the campaign is aimed at familiarizing primary-care doctors with the procedure.

The DTC test campaign is scheduled to run from September through November and will coincide with National Breast Cancer Month in October. The effort will end before the holidays, and Myriad hopes women will discuss the test when they meet with friends and family during the Christmas season, Critchfield said.

Critchfield declined to reveal details of the creative for the campaign, though he said early productions were successful with physician and consumer focus groups. The campaign will involve short-form DRTV and radio spots along with newspapers ads. Consumers will be directed to call a toll-free number or visit a Web site for more information.

The final scope of the campaign will be determined by the results of the test campaign, Critchfield said.

“We're raising awareness and giving the message that, by having this information, a woman can reduce the risk of getting a disease in the future,” Critchfield said.

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