Lilly, Boehringer Ingelheim tap actress Angela Bassett for diabetes and cardiovascular risk awareness

Actress and director Angela Bassett and her uncle star in BI and Lilly's latest "For Your Sweetheart" awareness effort.

Boehringer Ingelheim and Eli Lilly’s next phase of their diabetes and cardiovascular disease awareness campaign includes a celebrity with a personal connection. Actress and director Angela Bassett’s mother had Type 2 diabetes and died in 2014 from heart disease. Her uncle, Ralph Gilbert, who appears with Bassett in the effort, also has Type 2 diabetes.

Bassett was eager to become an ambassador of the “For Your Sweetheart” campaign because, like the majority (52%) of people living with Type 2 in a recent Boehringer and Lilly survey, she hadn’t been aware of the connection between diabetes and heart disease, said Graham Goodrich, VP of marketing at Boehringer Ingelheim. In fact, more than two-thirds of people older than 65 with Type 2 diabetes will die of cardiovascular disease, according to the American Heart Association.

Boehringer and Lilly have good reason—and FDA approval—to talk about the cardiovascular connection to Type 2 diabetes. Their SGLT2 inhibitor Jardiance got a first-in-class FDA nod last December for reducing the risk of cardiovascular death in adult patients with Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. More recently, results from a broad SGLT2 real-world study sponsored by AstraZeneca found that the medications cut heart failure hospitalization rates by 39% compared with other types of diabetes treatments.

That was good news for AstraZeneca’s Farxiga, as well as Johnson & Johnson’s Invokana, as 90% of the people in the analysis were on either Farxiga or Invokana. J&J’s own cardiovascular outcomes trial is set to provide data later this year, and a J&J spokesperson told FiercePharma in March that the results real-world results represent "good news" for the drug class and patients. AstraZeneca also has a cardiovascular outcomes trial underway. Meanwhile, Lilly and Boehringer have begun Jardiance cardiovascular trials for Type 2 patients with chronic heart failure and with heart failure patients who don’t have diabetes.

“There’s been a seismic shift in diabetes over the last year and a half,” Goodrich said. “... There’s been a lot of great data and cardiovascular outcomes trials—not just by Boehringer and Lilly, but other manufacturers—that have provided a wealth of data that offers new hope for patients, and that’s sparking a conversation.”

It also underscores the need for education, he said. Along with Bassett, Travis Stork, an EMT physician and host of the talk show “The Doctors,” will continue as an ambassador for the campaign with more celebrity ambassadors likely joining in the future. Bassett has already begun speaking to media outlets and posting on social media and will also appear in TV and radio public service announcements, Goodrich said. Her story, along with those of patients and caregivers, will also appear on the website