Boehringer PSA pairs real patients with baseball slugger Bernie Williams

Bernie Williams in Boehringer Ingelheim IPF awareness campaign
Former baseball star Bernie Williams brings attention to IPF in a new Boehringer PSA that points out as many people die from IPF as breast cancer annually. (BI)

Former New York Yankees baseball star Bernie Williams has fronted Boehringer Ingelheim’s idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis awareness work for a while now, but in his first-ever public service announcement, he’s joined by two real patients.

The new “Breathless” public interest message is currently being distributed to TV stations nationwide for use, but it’s already run on the big screen jumbotron at San Francisco Giants and Arizona Diamondbacks games. Two real patients, Paula and Patrick, appear in the PSA with Williams and are part of BI’s mentor program. In the video, they talk about living with IPF and their road to diagnosis. The spot was created in collaboration with the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation.

“The patient voice and perspective of those who have faced this disease firsthand is so powerful that we knew by working with people like Paula and Patrick we would make a greater impact with these important messages,” Al Masucci, vice president of the IPF business unit at Boehringer Ingelheim, said in an email interview.

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Although Williams, whose father died from IPF in 2001, became a spokesman for BI’s IPF effort in 2017, awareness is still needed around the disease, which affects more than 130,000 people in the U.S., Masucci said. As Williams says in the new PSA, IPF kills about 40,000 people every year—about the same number of people who die annually from breast cancer—although “many have never heard of it” because of symptoms similar to more common chronic conditions such as COPD and asthma.

Along with the TV work, a radio PSA will also be distributed to stations nationwide and the campaign will be featured on both BI’s and Williams’ social media outlets. Later this year, the video will also appear on TV screens at primary care physicians’ offices, Masucci said.

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BI makes IPF treatment Ofev, which competes with Roche’s IPF drug Esbriet. Sales of Ofev in 2018 checked it at €1.1 billion, up 29% over the previous year.