Flexion adds ex-WNBA star Swoopes to promotion team for osteoarthritis med Zilretta

Sheryl Swoopes found relief from her osteoarthritis knee pain with Zilretta and now is working with Flexion in an awareness campaign for doctors. (Flexion Therapeutics Inc.)

Former WNBA star Sheryl Swoopes recently joined another elite squad of athletes. The Hall of Famer and three-time Olympic gold medalist is joining Flexion Therapeutics' team of celebrity spokespeople repping the osteoarthritis knee pain med Zilretta.

Already on the pitch are Pittsburgh Steelers football Hall of Famer Rod Woodson, ice hockey Olympic gold medal team co-captain Mike Eruzione, and former New York Yankees baseball outfielder Chris Dickerson.

Swoopes, the first player to be signed into the WNBA and now a three-time Olympic gold medalist, had been dealing with osteoarthritis knee pain for years. After her doctor suggested Zilretta, she found she could exercise the way she wanted for the first time in a long time.

Through the National Basketball Retired Players Association (NBRPA) which had partnered with Flexion, Swoopes made contact with the company and the partnership was forged.

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“The elite athlete perspective represents what is true for so many other individuals, whether they're elite athletes, weekend athletes, or people who simply want to have the activities of daily living without pain and functional compromise,” Flexion CEO Mike Clayman said.

Flexion's current focus is on raising awareness of Zilretta with physicians before hitting the consumer market. Still, news of Swoopes' appointment garnered media coverage in Houston where she started with the Houston Comets. Swoopes tipped off her spokesperson duties at a virtual event with physicians last month.

Fifteen million people each year visit their doctors with knee osteoarthritis pain and five million leave with a shot in their knee, Clayman said. Current standard treatments are either immediate-release steroid solutions or suspensions, both injected into the knee. However, while those provide "some reasonable pain relief," the time period is typically short, he said.

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“We got into this space because we recognized that there was a very large and unsatisfied medical need," Clayman said, noting an "absolute absence of innovation in the space for literally decades."

Zilretta won FDA approval in October 2017 to treat osteoarthritis knee pain, notching an approved label update in 2019 to include safety data and clarify statements. The non-opioid injection is indicated for extended pain relief of 12 weeks.

Zilretta has also helped some people awaiting total knee-replacement surgery, which has been especially useful during COVID-19, Clayman said.