Benlysta maker GSK drafts soccer star Boxx to get lupus patients talking

Retired U.S. soccer star Shannon Boxx was diagnosed with lupus in 2008.

It took a while for retired U.S. soccer star Shannon Boxx to go public about her lupus diagnosis, but ever since, she's been determined to spotlight the disease. And now, she's teamed up with GlaxoSmithKline, which makes the lupus drug Benlysta, to do just that.

Boxx, a three-time Olympic gold medal winner, World Cup champion and lupus sufferer, has been wanting “to use my position as an elite athlete to do good for others by spreading awareness” since she announced her experience with the disease. And that’s “a common goal shared between me and GSK,” she said in an email interview.

After beginning to experience symptoms in 2002, it took 6 years for Boxx to get diagnosed—and then she kept quiet about the malady for a long time, afraid of how it would affect her career.

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That lag time is one thing Boxx hopes to help people combat, by encouraging dialogue between doctors and patients—something that's important for initial diagnosis, but during follow-up visits, too. “People living with lupus suffer more than physicians may perceive during the clinic visit. People often report difficulty communicating their symptoms to the doctor,” she said.

GSK's website offers some resources aimed at fulfilling the same goal: There, they can find an appointment tracker, symptom tracker and other aids to “help give them the tools, skills and confidence to speak with their physicians openly and honestly about their disease,” GSK rheumatologist Tania Gonzalez-Rivera said.

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For Glaxo, the Boxx collaboration marks the first time the company has joined forces with an athlete for May's lupus awareness month, but the U.K. drugmaker has previously teamed up with patient advocacy groups and worked on social media initiatives to help get the word out.  

Lately, GSK's efforts have paid off. Its lupus-fighter Benlysta last year posted an 18% expansion in the U.S. as sales climbed to £277 million “with ongoing demand growth,” GSK said. The company is hoping to keep that trajectory going with a subcutaneous formulation of the IV med, which it last year filed with regulators in the U.S. and Europe.