Bayer gets in step with dancer Debbie Allen to spotlight kidney disease in Type 2 diabetes

Bayer joins the National Kidney Foundation and actress and dancer Debbie Allen to highlight the dangers of chronic kidney disease for diabetes patients. (Bayer)

Dance legend and actress Debbie Allen is stepping up for Type 2 diabetes in Bayer’s campaign to raise awareness about its connection to kidney disease.

Allen, who was recently diagnosed with pre-diabetes, joins the “Are You the 33%?” campaign launched last March by Bayer and the National Kidney Foundation. The 33% in the title refers to the one-third of Americans at risk of developing chronic kidney disease.

The campaign encourages people with Type 2 diabetes especially to go to to complete a short risk assessment to determine whether they may be in the 33%. The goal is to get people to find out if they have kidney issues earlier so they can intervene more meaningfully, said Kevin Bernier, Bayer director of patient advocacy.

"Part of the beauty of Ms. Allen is she's just real. She's able to convey to folks 'this is what I'm dealing with, my family has had this for a long time and I've never understood the trajectory of how my pre-diabetes or my family's diabetes puts us at risk for other more complicated scenarios,' " he said.

RELATED: Bayer pharma chief admits to unfillable revenue gap despite potential blockbuster launches

Allen's pre-diabetes diagnosis comes after years of exercise dancing and a careful diet. But she also has a family history of diabetes that includes her father and grandfather, along with aunts and uncles.

While kidney disease goes hand-in-hand with Type 2 diabetes, it’s not a well-known association. The only way to test for signs of chronic kidney disease is with blood and urine tests. If left untreated, chronic kidney disease can lead to dialysis, kidney transplant and heart problems. 

As part of the campaign, the National Kidney Foundation will host a virtual fireside chat with Allen and a patient living with Type 2 diabetes and chronic kidney disease—along with the foundation's chief medical officer, Joseph Vassalotti, M.D.—on March 11.

In January, Bayer nabbed an FDA priority review for finerenone to treat patients with chronic kidney disease and Type 2 diabetes.

RELATED: AHA: Bayer's finerenone helps kidney, heart disease patients regardless of medical history

At AHA in November, Bayer reported positive phase 3 data showing finerenone reduced risk of heart attack, stroke and heart failure among trial participants with chronic kidney disease and Type 2 diabetes—two of the leading causes of death among those patients. The FDA deadline for reviewing its application is set for early July. 

Finerenone is pegged as a potential blockbuster for Bayer and would mark the pharma’s return to the U.S. cardiovascular arena. At JPM last month, Bayer pharma chief Stefan Oelrich said the creation of a new marketing and sales group for the med is “well underway.”

If it wins approval, Bayer will join other meds angling for Type 2 patients with chronic kidney disease. Johnson & Johnson's Invokana, for one, recently won approval to treat diabetic kidney disease, while fellow SGLT2 inhibitor Farxiga, from AstraZeneca, is awaiting an FDA decision to treat CKD in patients regardless of whether they have diabetes.

Amit Sharma, VP of cardiovascular and renal medical affairs at Bayer, said the large trials—13,000 patients total—has been an ambitious but meticulous project over the past seven years. 

"The global company is committing to the cardiovascular renal franchise in the U.S. and so we're ramping up on both the medical side and on the commercial, sales and marketing side as we're really investing in a long-term vision that we're going to be the go to group for cardiovascular and renal," he said.

Editor's note: This story was updated with comments from Bayer executives.