The J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, the most anticipated event in the biotech and pharma calendars, has a reputation for drawing major announcements from big players in the industry. The 2024 edition has not disappointed.

Analysing 289 English-language articles published between 5 – 12 January in top tier national and trade media outlets, we found that as the world’s biggest drugmakers are racing to buy up biotech companies to fill looming holes in their pipelines and pounce on new discoveries, M&A emerged as the most prominent topic, bringing a hopeful buzz to the event:

On the first day of the conference alone – which traditionally garnered most of the media attention – about $6.4 billion worth of health deals were announced.

Those deals involved a host of Big Pharmas, including the likes of Bristol Myers Squibb, Boehringer Ingelheim, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, AbbVie and Roche.

However, Merck emerged as the most influential organisation in the debate, as many journalists focused on its $680 million deal with cancer drugmaker Harpoon Therapeutics – a noteworthy move given the upcoming patent expiry of its blockbuster oncology medicine, Keytruda.

Merck was followed by Novartis, which captured attention early on with the first official M&A deal of JPM ’24 – its acquisition of Netherlands biotech Calypso and its antibody drug for autoimmune diseases, which for many journalists showcased Novartis‘s strategic investments in novel therapeutic areas and its global collaborative approach, aligning with the industry’s trend towards more targeted and personalised medicine.

How obesity shaped the debate

But despite these major deals in oncology and immunology, it was another clinical area that generated most of the media buzz – obesity.

The focus on obesity gave the conference a more unified theme, in contrast to last year, when a broader array of narratives such as personalised medicine, the ongoing impacts of COVID-19, and drug pricing dominated the discussions.

Many publications echoed the sentiment expressed by Victor Bulto, president of the US unit for Novartis – that opening new markets like obesity is adding optimism, and the renewed energy in biotech, which has been pummeled in recent years, applies even for companies that aren’t working in obesity.

While Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly, with their established weight-loss drugs Wegovy and Zepbound, continued to lead the conversations, Commetric’s insights reveal an interesting dynamic. Companies like Amgen, Merck, Pfizer, and Boehringer Ingelheim in collaboration with Zealand Pharma gained media attention by entering this lucrative market, each bringing unique approaches to obesity treatment.

Amgen, for instance, attracted the media spotlight by developing an experimental dual mechanism drug, aiming for fewer side effects and less frequent dosing. This approach signals a departure from traditional treatments, offering a new narrative for media engagement.

Boehringer Ingelheim and Zealand Pharma drew attention with their collaborative venture, targeting GLP-1 and glucagon, hinting at a groundbreaking mechanism of action. This partnership shows how collaboration can yield innovative solutions and garner media interest.

On the other hand, Pfizer‘s strategy involved focusing on drugs already in its pipeline and looking for licensing deals or acquisitions in earlier stages. Similarly, Bayer said it may look to partner with companies with the right expertise.

These varied approaches not only demonstrated the dynamism within the obesity treatment landscape but also the vast untapped potential that keeps attracting pharmaceutical giants. The significant media attention at the conference on these companies’ work in obesity reflects the high interest in this field, both from a public health perspective and a market opportunity standpoint.

Talking about obesity also made Pfizer’s Albert Bourla and Eli Lilly’s David Ricks the most influential spokespeople in the conversation:

Bourla‘s aggressive stance on breaking into the obesity market and his projection of its growth to $150 billion a year significantly elevated the media focus on Pfizer, while Ricks‘ emphasis on seizing the moment with Lilly’s Zepbound, particularly its solid start post-approval, positioned him as a key voice in the conversation.

Leveraging Commetric’s analytics and insights for obesity drug breakthrough

Commetric’s media analytics and insights can help pharma companies strategically navigate the complex media environment, effectively communicate the value and innovation of their obesity drugs, and position themselves as key players in obesity treatment, even while their drugs are still in mid-stage trials. Here’s how:

1. Identifying Key Media Trends and Topics

Understanding the Current Narrative: Commetric can analyse the existing media landscape to understand how obesity drugs are currently being discussed. This includes identifying the key themes, challenges, and opportunities within the obesity treatment space.

2. Targeted Messaging

Crafting Compelling Stories: Commetric’s strategic media insights can guide pharma companies in creating narratives that highlight the uniqueness of their drugs, focusing on what distinguishes them – for instance, dual mechanisms or potential for improved efficacy and fewer side effects.

3. Analysing Competitor Strategies

Benchmarking Against Competitors: Commetric can provide insights into how competitors are positioning their products. This enables pharma companies to differentiate their messaging and highlight unique aspects of their drugs.

Spotting Gaps and Opportunities: By understanding competitors’ strategies, pharma companies can find gaps in their narratives or areas they haven’t fully addressed (white space).

4. Audience Engagement

Identifying Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs): Commetric can help pharma companies identify the most influential audiences and stakeholders in the obesity conversation, such as healthcare professionals, industry experts, and potential investors.

Engagement Strategies: Tailoring communication strategies to these audiences, including the use of social media, targeted press releases, and panel discussions at conferences, can increase engagement and interest.

5. Monitoring and Adapting

Real-Time Analytics: Utilising Commetric’s tailored media monitoring, pharma companies can track the reception of their communications, allowing for quick adjustments and refinements based on audience feedback.

Sentiment Analysis: Understanding the sentiment around their drug development process can help pharma players manage expectations and address any concerns proactively.

6. Strategic Planning for Future Stages

Long-Term Communication Strategy: Insights from Commetric can inform pharma players’ long-term communications strategy, especially as the drug progresses through later stages of clinical trials and eventually towards market entry.

Building a Strong Narrative: Continuous media analysis helps in building and maintaining a strong, consistent narrative around drugs, reinforcing the potential value of obesity treatment.

Discover how Commetric’s AI-driven and human-curated media analytics can equip you with a best-in-class comms strategy.

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