By Arun Sudhaman

NEW YORK: Denmark’s Leo Pharma has selected Hill & Knowlton to develop a major disease awareness campaign, ahead of the global launch of a new drug which treats pre-cancerous skin lesions.

Hill & Knowlton secured account duties, which cover the US and Australia, following a pitch that also included Porter Novelli, WCG and Edelman. Leo Pharma launch communications manager Helga Heyn told the Holmes Report that the company will now seek similar PR agency support in the UK, Canada and Europe.

The new drug, currently called PEP005, is a topical gel that treats skin sunspots, also known as actinic keratosis. Although the vast majority are harmless, these lesions can develop into skin cancer yet they are often “overlooked by many” said Heyn. Accordingly, Leo Pharma is to run unbranded disease awareness programmes to encourage people to check their skin.

At Hill & Knowlton, the account will be two senior healthcare executives: New York healthcare head Susan Thiele, and Sue Cook, who heads Asia-Pacific practice from Australia.

The campaign will take place in 2011, before PEP005 launches in 2012.

Heyn pointed out that, in comparison to skin melanomas, awareness of actinic keratosis is “low”, despite its appearance on increasing numbers of people. In the US alone, for example, the Skin Cancer Foundation estimates that more than 10 million people have actinic keratosis.

PEP005 itself is a drug manufactured by Peplin, a company that Leo Pharma acquired last year. The moves are all part of Leo’s increasing global expansion; the company now operates in 54 countries, including the key US market.