OK. I’ve written so much about Novo Nordisk’s deal with celebrity chef Paula Deen that even I am tempted to say “Enough already! Move on.” Well, there is one side of this story that I and others have not yet commented on. That is, what do Novo’s troops (ie, sales reps) have to say about it? Specifically, do they think this deal will help them sell Novo’s type 2 diabetes drug Victoza — the drug Deen is a spokesperson for? Or will it hurt sales?

To get answers to those questions, I turned to the Novo Nordisk company board on Cafe Pharma (CP) – the notorious but always entertaining and enlightening pharma sales rep message board. I learned about some other issues that the “troops” discussed, including:

  • Heredity vs. Lifestyle as contributing factor
  • Is drug treatment the first option recommended when diagnosed with type 2 diabetes?
  • The role of the American Diabetes Association (ADA)
  • Will Victoza be prescribed off-label for weight loss?

One anonymous commenter,  had this to say:

“This is either the most brilliant marketing strategy ever or the dumbest.”

That, of course, remains to be seen.

It’s Dumb!
Interestingly, this commenter added some further remarks that offers intriguing insight into the possible strategy of Novo Nordisk’s entire diabetes franchise:

“Just think,” said this anonymous sales rep, “Paula and her fat fans go from victoza to levemir to novolog. I give her 1 more year and she is on insulin.” Not that this rep thinks this is an honorable strategy for Novo to support. “Novo should do the honorable thing here and cancel this deal. Defeat diabetes my ass. They have just done more to cause diabetes than mcd’s [McDonald’s]. It is like Marlborough Man being a spokesman for Nicorette. Shameful.”

Of course, it’s possible that this anonymous rep was a rep from a competing pharmaceutical company and not a Novo rep at all. In any case, other commenters had similar things to say, such as:

“Wow. This is a PR disaster. Who were the brains behind this fiasco? Victoza is taking major hits in the media with the whole world now focused on price ($500 a month!) and questions being raised about drug safety and marketing ethics. Novo just bought itself a few million dollars worth of bad publicity. Time to pull the plug to save face.”

It’s Brilliant!
There were also plenty of posts in defense of the deal:

“Granted, she is still in denial, but she’s on Victoza, she’s already lost a dress size since starting and it’s a Dean family endorsement. Which is even better because it shows it does take a village to help patients with diabetes treat their disease. This is a horrible disease that is difficult to manage. Everyone is playing into Novo’s hands with all the press around diabetes and becoming more aware. Novo couldn’t pay for all the ads they’ve gotten over the past week.”

“First of all, this whole flap will be short lived. It wont be long before it’s been long forgotten. Secondly, PD’s hardcore fans couldn’t care less about how long she took to reveal her diabetes. If Paula takes Victoza, guess what those hardcore fans are going to ask their doctors to prescribe for them. And there’s millions of them too. Most of the critics are selling Novo’s management short. Time holds the answer as to what will happen, but my money is on the whole thing being wildly successful.

“the posters who think its ridiculous are the competitors bc they are mad their idiot companies didnt do this first. Its brilliant. Brilliant bc we all know the success rates with Victoza. Our docs rave about it all the time. Theyre not going to write more lantus bc PD was hired by Novo.

“This is brilliant. Do you think Weight Watchers cared when Barkely supposedly trashed their endorsement by saying it was easy money to eat their meals and lose weight? No, it was good TV. This will be for Novo, too. Welcome to big pharma.”

From a marketing perspective, is the Novo Nordisk deal with Paula Deen Brilliant or Dumb?
It remains to be seen.


Someone else pointed out that drug treatment is not the only solution for people with Type 2 diabetes (“T2DM”):

“It is not a ‘horrible disease’ – it is a disease of gluttony and sedentary lifestyle. T2DM is reversible with implementing healthier eating habits and adding exercise to your daily routine. The alliance with Paula Deen (spelled D-E-E-N) suggests that people can continue to eat what they want and take a drug to make everything all better. Don’t try and spin this alliance as social responsibility – your intentions are purely economic in nature.”

You’ll Hear More About Heredity and Type 2 Diabetes
The lifestyle change solution POV will be something that Novo and Deen will have to combat as they get deeper into this. In fact, they have already pinpointed “heredity” as the most important factor. This was re-iterated in a comment in response to the above:

“Heredity? Have you ever heard of that? But, what do doctors know? After all, you’re an anonymous CP poster, so you know it must only be about gluttony and a sedentary lifestyle. Pick up a textbook some time…you might actually learn something.”

In response:

“When diagnosed with t2dm, what are the first instructions a doctor should give to their patients according to the ADA? The answer: diet and lifestyle changes. Why is that? Is the ADA wrong? Are doctors wrong for following the ADA guidelines? Why even bother with this step if heredity is such a controlling factor? Your message to people with diabetes suggests that they can’t help themselves without the aid of your pharmaceuticals.”

Will the ADA be Caught Up in This?
I’ll have to check up on what the ADA has to say about first options. I already know that ADA is part of the deal because the organization has said the Deen family will participate in select diabetes health expos the ADA hosts around the country. It has also been reported that Deen will contribute some of her Novo earnings to the ADA, although no specific monetary amounts were mentioned.

Is Weight Loss a Possible Future Indication for Victoza?
One last point concerns weight loss and whether or not Paula Deen will help sell Victoza for that purpose. CP comments relating to that include:

“She will drop 40 lbs over the next year or less and “bang” we have an unofficial weight loss drug. (no indication necessary) Frankly I think its brilliant, she is probably under contract to eat healthier and exercise….and write a a cookbook with healthier versions of her food. We should look forward to seeing her at the next national POA. May I suggest identifying and adding the weight loss clinic docs in your area to your universe, otherwise you will not get paid Bad press now…millions of dollars later. Laughing all the way to Denmark.”

Of course, if Novo or any Novo sales rep were caught mentioning weight loss as a indication, they would be breaking the law and subject the company to hefty fines, as this commenter pointed out:

“glad to hear all the weight loss drug talk. Can’t wait to see Novo pay all those off label promotion fines”