XeniCare Goes One-to-One in the Fat War

Hoffmann-La Roche Inc., Nutley, NJ, is seeing strong initial interest in a personalized, direct mail compliance and behavior modification program for Xenical, its new weight-loss drug.

The program, called XeniCare, is designed to mimic one-on-one weight-loss therapy by delivering targeted information to patients based on information they supply.

“When you are working in the area of weight loss, it's almost required that you provide behavior modification,” said Dan Reinhardt, Xenical product director at Roche Laboratories, a subsidiary of Hoffmann-La Roche. “That's the cornerstone of weight-loss therapy.”

The XeniCare program has drawn about 25,000 participants in the first eight weeks, and fewer than 10 people have opted out, Reinhardt said. Based on initial projections, about 15 percent of the patients who begin taking Xenical are expected to participate in the program. Based on his own experiences, Reinhardt said, participation in such programs usually includes about 5 percent to 10 percent of patients.

“We're pretty pleased that we're above the average,” he said.

Xenical, which works by blocking the absorption of dietary fat, is indicated for patients who weigh at least 30 percent over their ideal body weight, or 20 percent if they have another related condition such as heart disease or diabetes. The compliance program, which was created with input from physicians, dietitians and patients in clinical trials, is designed both to help patients adhere to their medication regimens and to help them overcome their individual barriers to weight loss.

Roche is making the program available through various channels, including physicians, who can give new Xenical patients a starter kit that includes tips for counting calories and fat grams and an enrollment form. Patients also can sign up through a toll-free number that is distributed with the medication at pharmacies and they can enroll online at the product Web sites.

Patients who enroll complete a 35-question survey that gathers information about their lifestyles, eating habits, demographic information and other data that is used to assemble the tailored direct mail pieces.

MicroMass Communications Inc., Cary, NC, is executing the direct mail effort, using its computer system to assemble bundles of information for each patient.

“It's more like an automated pen pal system,” said Dave Bulger, founder and chairman of MicroMass. “We use an inference engine to take your profile and then pull the appropriate content out of the content database and build your individual message.”

Patients who indicate that they prefer a certain type of cuisine might get recipes for preparing that type of food, for example.

“I believe that at any time you belong to a bunch of different clusters, so what we're doing is finding that cross-section of all the clusters you fit in,” said Bill Dukes, creative director at MicroMass. “There're only one person that sits at the intersection of all those clusters, and that's you.”

Dukes said the program is designed to evolve as patients progress through their treatment regimens.

“The big thing we need to do up front is getting you to take the medication regularly and properly but also change your diet,” he said. “In the first month or two, that's all that matters.”

The program involves weekly mailings for the first four weeks, including a welcome package when patients first enroll with diet tips, recipes and strategies for dealing with food cravings. After the fourth week, mailings go out every two weeks until week 16, when the mailings take the form of a quarterly newsletter. The mailings will continue for up to two years.

“We get all the information we need to change your behavior up front,” Bulger said. “It's very front-loaded.”

The program is interactive, however, and patients' profiles can evolve based on information they provide via business reply cards that are enclosed in some of the mailings.

Reinhardt said that it was too early to gauge the campaign's success at promoting weight loss but that he's encouraged by the high rate of participation and the low drop-out rate.

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