Diabetes Medication

Reaching out with Byetta

The people who make and market Byetta are finally beginning to reach out to us. Some of my friends wonder why they waited so long.

Byetta is the first of a new class of drugs that helps people not only to get our blood glucose under better control but also to lose weight. The Food and Drug Administration approved it in April 2005, and it started becoming available in pharmacies a couple of months later.

Amylin Pharmaceuticals and Eli Lilly, which developed and distribute the new drug, still doesn’t have a direct to consumer campaign promoting Byetta. But they just launched a public relations campaign to help boost word of mouth talk about it.

Actress Delta Burke is the star of this “Byetta Let’s Talk” campaign, which includes a 10-city road show and a website for those of us who live elsewhere.

The itinerary is starts in Boston at the 2007 New England Spring Flower Show from March 17 to 25 and concludes almost five months later near Los Angeles at the Ventura County Fair from August 10 to 12. Along the way they’re going to Atlanta’s Dogwood Festival, April 13 to 15; New York City at the Third Avenue Merchants Spring Expo, April 29; Philadelphia’s annual Rittenhouse Row Spring Festival, May 5; near San Francisco at Mountain View’s 10th Annual A La Carte and Art Festival, May 19-20; Washington, D.C., at the Safeway 15th Annual National Capital Barbecue Battle, June 23 to 24; in Chicago at its Taste of Chicago food festival, June 29 to July 1; in Dallas at its Taste of Dallas food festival, July 13 to 15; and near Detroit at Ann Arbor’s 48th Annual Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, July 18 to 21.

Except those in Boston, New York City, and Philadephia, Delta Burke is scheduled to be available. She also talked with me earlier this week, just before launching the campaign.

Delta told me that she had type 2 diabetes and has used Byetta since it became available. It “made a huge difference immediately” in both her A1C levels and weight, she says.

When she started, she had been on metformin for a long time, but her A1C was still in the range of 8. She says that it’s now down to about 6.

She also lost between 18 and 20 pounds. That’s something both personally and professionally important to her.

She is best known for her portrayal as Suzanne Sugarbaker in the CBS series, “Designing Women,” which ran for five seasons and for which she received two Emmy nominations for Best Actress in a Comedy Series. The International Movie Database lists her as an actress in 56 movies and TV shows between 1978 and one in pre-production for 2008. She currently plays Bella Horowitz in the ABC series, “Boston Legal.”

Weight is especially important for an actress, Delta told me, because a camera makes people look about 20 pounds heavier than they really are. “Because of that issue, the thinner you are the better that you are going to look on camera. When people see me in person for the first time, they often say, ‘Gee, you’ve lost a lot of weight!’”

When I talked with Delta, her Certified Diabetes Educator, Virginia Valentine, was also on the line. Virginia tells me that she herself has type 2 diabetes and has lost “a little over 40 pounds” since starting on Byetta.

Virginia plans to be available at all 10 roadshow events to give people access to a diabetes educator. “Fewer than one-fourth of the people with diabetes have ever seen one,” she says.

Delta chipped in. She exclaimed that before she met Virginia, “I didn’t even know that diabetes educators existed!”

But it was Jamaison Schuler, Lilly’s senior communications associate, who came in for my toughest questioning on the conference call with Delta and Virginia. “I have been disturbed by your lack of publicity for Byetta,” I told him.

“We wanted to make sure that because Byetta is different from all of the other diabetes therapies that we took an appropriate amount of time to educate physicians, nurse educators, and even endocrinologists, so they would know how to prescribe it well before so we really started going out there to consumers,” he responded evenly. “We didn’t want them to go in and ask for it and the doctors didn’t understand it. So we took our time.”

I sympathize somewhat with that approach. In fact, as I told him and have written here, I had to fire the primary care physician that I had when I decided to start on Byetta myself.

But, now, Jamaison tells me, about half of the primary care physicians in this country have prescribed Byetta. More than 85 percent of diabetes specialists have prescribed it. Non-specialists have written almost three out of four prescriptions for it.

Does your doctor know about Byetta? If not, he or she needs to get with the program. Or you need to reach out to one who is up-to-date.

This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.

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