Just in time for MLB Opening Day, former Yankees slugger Williams stars in BI’s newest IPF awareness effort

An online screenshot from the BreathlessIPF.com website features news spokesman and former Yankee standout outfielder Bernie Williams.

Boehringer Ingelheim has drafted Bernie Williams for its latest idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis disease awareness effort. The continuing “Breathless” campaign, launched last year, now features New York Yankees all-star Williams, whose father suffered from IPF for years before he died in 2001.

Williams’ father not only first taught him to play baseball and encouraged his career, but also taught him to play guitar, which has become the slugger’s second career, earning him a Latin Grammy nomination in 2009.

“IPF took his life little by little, and it was so hard to see him going through that. I was just heartbroken,” Williams says in one of the online campaign videos. “I think one of the things he would have wanted me to do is to create awareness and do everything that I can to make people aware of the fact that there are more alternatives.”

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The website BreathlessIPF.com features other content about symptoms and diagnosis challenges, along with two campaign ambassadors who are living with IPF. The campaign will also run nationally on TV and radio, Boehringer Ingelheim public relations said via email. “Breathless” first launched in February, 2016 as a national platform to try to reach the estimated 132,000 people in the U.S. who have IPF.

Boehringer Ingelheim makes IPF treatment Ofev, which competes with Roche’s IPF drug Esbriet. Sales of Ofev in the first half of 2016 were up 166% to €250 million ($266.4 million); Boehringer reported full-year 2016 results on April 5.

RELATED: Boehringer, Inventiva strike €170M idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis R&D deal

Boehringer’s disease awareness efforts are long-standing; it has been a sponsor of the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation since 2011, and in 2014, shortly before the launch of Ofev, it funded a Discovery Channel documentary called “Every Breath Counts.” It is currently working with French biopharma Inventiva in a collaboration to develop new treatments for IPF.