Zika as a Cure? 3 Ways Drug Marketers Can Reframe Deal-breaker Products
Healthcare marketers may have a challenge. Zika — the same virus that can cause tragic birth defects — may help shrink brain tumors in adults. Now healthcare brands interested in this possible treatment may have to overcome fears that had Americans resisting travel to affected regions during the height of its fame.
While warnings about travel to areas affected by Zika were aimed at pregnant women, many Americans were wary of becoming carriers of the virus that could cause microcephaly in a developing fetus. That’s why the article “Zika Virus Can Kill Brain Tumor Cells, Washington University Researchers Discover” went viral on social media within hours of it being published on the St. Louis Post-Dispatch site on Tuesday.
On Facebook, posts about the discovery Blythe Bernhard reported for the Post-Dispatch took on a critical tone — that perhaps healthcare marketers created a scare about the virus so they could get funding to create a vaccine. Still others commented that in every negative there’s a positive.
On Twitter, comments about Zika were more reserved.
— Syed Zia Nayeem (@szn_anon) September 5, 2017
— Loren Robinson, MD (@DocLoRo) September 5, 2017
Marketers who want to take on the challenge of making Americans embrace Zika can consider the following options:
Healthcare Marketers Can Call Zika a Safer Cure Than Current Options
Tamara Bhandari writes for Wash U on Tuesday that the research published that day in the Journal of Experimental Medicine impacts the following about the cancer cells Zika may shrink:
Each year in the United States, about 12,000 people are diagnosed with glioblastoma, the most common form of brain cancer. Among them is U.S. Sen. John McCain, who announced his diagnosis in July.
The standard treatment is aggressive — surgery, followed by chemotherapy and radiation — yet most tumors recur within six months. A small population of cells, known as glioblastoma stem cells, often survives the onslaught and continues to divide, producing new tumor cells to replace the ones killed by the cancer drugs.
In their neurological origins and near-limitless ability to create new cells, glioblastoma stem cells reminded postdoctoral researcher Zhe Zhu, PhD, of neuroprogenitor cells, which generate cells for the growing brain. Zika virus specifically targets and kills neuroprogenitor cells.
Healthcare Marketers Can Emphasize the Difference Between Fetal and Adult Brains
Bhandari writes that researchers believe Zika and current treatments complement each other and ultimately may be able to eliminate this type of brain cancer, from which many patients die within a year.
Part of the reason the Zika virus may work well in adult brains is:
Zika may be safer for use in adults because its primary targets — neuroprogenitor cells — are rare in the adult brain. The fetal brain, on the other hand, is loaded with such cells, which is part of the reason why Zika infection before birth produces widespread and severe brain damage, while natural infection in adulthood causes mild symptoms.
Healthcare Marketers Can Emphasize the Weakened Nature of the Injected Zika Virus
Wash U’s Bhandari writes that healthcare marketers may not be trying to sell the original Zika virus.
As an additional safety feature, the researchers introduced two mutations that weakened the virus’s ability to combat the cell’s defenses against infection, reasoning that the mutated virus still would be able to grow in tumor cells – which have a poor antiviral defense system – but would be eliminated quickly in healthy cells with a robust antiviral response.
When they tested the mutant viral strain and the original parental strain in glioblastoma stem cells, they found that the original strain was more potent, but that the mutant strain also succeeded in killing the cancerous cells.
“We’re going to introduce additional mutations to sensitize the virus even more to the innate immune response and prevent the infection from spreading,” said [study co-author, Dr. Michael S.] Diamond, who also is a professor of molecular microbiology, and of pathology and immunology. “Once we add a few more changes, I think it’s going to be impossible for the virus to overcome them and cause disease.”
What do you think, marketers?
Please respond in the comments section below.
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