Novo Must Get Rid Of Paula Deen: Kliff Explains

Novo Must Get Rid Of Paula Deen: Kliff Explains

January 20th, 2012 // 3:27 pm @

Earlier this week, Paula Deen, the self-styled ‘Queen of Southern Cuisine’ and Food Network star, disclosed that she not only had Type 2 diabetes for the past three years, but had just signed up as a paid spokesperson for Novo Nordisk, which sells various diabetes treatments (back story). The reaction was fast and furious – Deen was chastised for failing to disclose her diabetes sooner, given that she cooks all softs of fattening and, often, unhealthy food. And Novo Nordisk was criticized for a choice that made the drugmaker appear cynical and hypocritical. We asked David Kliff of Diabetic Investor about this unusual pairing and the implications…

Pharmalot: So what do you make of this choice of celebrity endorsers?
Kliff: When I looked at who she is and what she cooks and what she’s all about, I was outraged. The recipes she’s promoting are not what a diabetic should be eating. But my outrage also comes from the fact that she hid her diabetes. She kept this fact secret for three years, because she knew if she told people that she’s diabetic – and out there cooking foods that, basically, cause diabetes – she looks like a hypocrite. And she did this for the money, of course.

When you hide something like this from the public, what message are you sending? Are you saying it’s okay to have diabetes? I don’t think that’s the message she’s sending. I think the message she’s sending is that she hid diabetes and she did so for obvious business reasons – money. Basically, that’s saying to the public that there’s something wrong with having diabetes, something so wrong that I chose to hide it. Just think back to the old days when AIDS was new. People with HIV would hide it. Anyway, diabetes is not a death sentence. I’ve run four marathons and two triathalons with diabetes.

Pharmalot: Why do you think Novo Nordisk chose her?
Kliff: They could care less. This shows they have no scruples. You know, you can’t grow a conscience. And if they had one, they would have disassociated themselves from her as quickly as possible. I can’t tell you what a disservice she has done to the millions of people with diabetes and the millions who will get diabetes. What she’s done in her own shyster way is make it that appear that Type 2 diabetes is almost like being a leper.

Pharmalot: How do you mean exactly?
Kliff: She could have done a lot of good. When she found out she had diabetes, she could have said ‘I learned my lesson and I’m going to change my cooking. And if you do the right things, you can live a long life with diabetes.’ But she didn’t offer the right message.

Pharmalot: Okay, and you started to discuss the company…
Kliff: What they’re doing is endorsing a view that there’s something wrong with you if you have diabetes. This is a company that’s devoted its entire corporate life to helping patients with diabetes, but now they’re bastardizing themselves and in the long run, this will backfire on them. I really just don’t know what happened to this company. But since they had a change in the US leadership a few years ago, they’ve had a lot of problems. They were investigated by the Department of Justice and there were lawsuits filed (see here and here). The entire environment has changed. This is a company that’s lost its way. It used to be very respected. It’s a shame.

paula-deenPharmalot: But isn’t it possible this could blow over and, in a few months, the spin will be that a person can conduct themselves as she does but still manage their diabetes? And they could sell a lot of product?
Kliff: What I think they’re going to do is play stupid. They’ll say something to the effect that ‘we thought she was recently diagnosed.’ Kind of like Newt: ‘What did the president know and when did he know it?’ Yes, we live in a short news cycle. But I would say she’s pretty much toast now. They’ve done a lot of damage to the diabetes community and to themselves. And it’s becoming viral. I think if Novo was smart, they’d find a gracious way to get out of this deal.

They’re sending the absolute wrong message to every patient out there. Quite honestly, I think it’ll backfire. Think of the timing. In about nine days, we have the PDUFA date for Bydureon (a diabetes drug from Amylin Pharmaceuticals – back story). It’s a direct competitor to the Novo drug, Victoza. They’re both the same type of drug, they belong to the GLP-1 class. And to me, Victoza is a substandard drug compared to Bydureon. Victoza is taken once a day, while Bydureon is once per week. They can both do a good job of controlling blood sugar and do a lot of good for patients, but that one factor alone puts Novo at a disadvantage. Would you rather inject yourself once a day or once a week?

Pharmalot: So you’re saying the timing couldn’t have been worse?
Kliff: Novo knows Bydureon is coming. Their reps are scared to death. Victoza has done well since it was introduced, but everyone knows that run is going to come to end. And their insulin franchise is kind of stagnant – its’ becoming more commoditized. Given what’s coming, if Novo was smart – and I don’t know they are – they should say this deal with Paula Deen is a mistake and it was inexcusable and admit it was an insult to every diabetic. They’d look a lot better if they did that. But if they stand by her, they will also look like hypocrites.

Pharmalot: So is it too late to dig themselves out of a hole?
Kliff: The company has a lot of business issues to be worried about and I think this controversy is something they just don’t need and should run away from it as fast and as gracefully as they can. I believe the company is somewhat lost – Novo has always had a reputation for providing premium products at premium prices. But we live in a world now where premium products are being sold at generic prices and that’s a big problem for them. And we see threats to their core insulin franchise. Just as there GLP-1 franchise gets off the ground, we see it faces a threat. And we see the pipeline, which used to be one of the best in the industry, is now kind of barren. The situation for Novo doesn’t look so good. And what do they do? They get Paula Deen. I think they have to get rid of her.

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