Five Questions: Acorda CEO Ron Cohen on the Future of Neurology R&D
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our sales team in neurology. If we had opportunities that were going to be on the market soon or in the market now, that would be attractive. That was the impetus for the deal with Neuronex.
X: Acorda recently debuted a website for MS patients called Ampyra Journeys, which is a direct appeal to patients. How much direct-to-consumer marketing has Acorda done, and why did you choose this approach?
RC: We’ve always had a strong focus on the patient. The whole company started as a virtual company. There was no lab for the first five years. The office was my second bedroom. The company was a network of laboratories and patient advocacy groups that I knitted together. Our roots are there. We’ve kept that. We have very strong ties with all the MS advocacy groups. Our view is that to develop drugs most effectively, you have to have the patient’s voice constantly in your ear. Up until lately we didn’t have the wherewithal to express that as fully as we are now on the Amypra Journeys website. It’s entirely patient focused. The idea there is to humanize it. It’s to give patients a voice and a place to go for information on MS in general, and information about the impact it has on people’s lives. We’re going to keep building in functionality as we go forward.
What we’ve done until now is targeted print advertising. We advertise in the National MS Society journal. We advertise in selected magazines, such as women’s health magazines. We’ve had a growing online presence. Right now it’s intensifying. We do search-engine optimization, key word searches, all designed to drive traffic to the various websites we set up. That’s a major part of our outreach now. So many people are online now that we think it’s the current and future wave of marketing. We’ve been really pleased with the initial interest in the site.
X: What are you most excited about in Acorda’s early-stage pipeline?
RC: Chondroitinase is very early but it’s still my favorite program. It’s an enzyme that degrades a powerful inhibitor of regeneration in the nervous system. That correlates with improved function after injury. It has, in my view, the best chance to increase plasticity of the injured central nervous system—brain, spinal cord. At least six labs worldwide, as well as our lab, have done work in spinal cord injury models. A group in Italy has restored sight to rats with cortical blindness. We’ve shown restoration of walking and bladder function in animal models of spinal cord injury. The science is well understood. My dream is for us to get this into the clinic for spinal cord injury.