Novo brings on actor Vereen, country singer RaeLynn as its newest diabetes ambassadors

RaeLynn

Novo Nordisk ($NVO) may have run into some trouble a few years back over its partnership with famous chef Paula Deen. But that hasn’t stopped the Danish drugmaker from teaming up with celebs to promote diabetes awareness, and now it’s ushering in a couple of new partnerships it hopes will help get the word out.

The company is bringing on actor and singer Ben Vereen and country singer RaeLynn as part of its Patient Ambassador Education program, it announced recently. As part of the program, the pair will “actively participate” in community and educational events throughout the country on behalf of Novo, with the goal of educating and empowering patients, the drugmaker said.

Novo hasn’t been one to shy away from using celebrities in its marketing--even though it knows just how risky the strategy can be. In 2013, it stepped away from partner Deen after she confessed to using racist language and telling offensive jokes at work.

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This time around, though, Novo believes it can get a good thing going. Both Type 2 patient Vereen--known for Broadway roles in productions such as “Pippen” and “Hair,” the role of “Chicken George” in TV series "Roots" and appearances on other shows including “How I Met Your Mother” and “Grey’s Anatomy”--and RaeLynn, who has picked up two CMT Music Awards since first appearing on NBC’s “The Voice” in 2012--have success stories to share, and Novo wants to share those stories with its patients.

"I plan to use my role as a diabetes patient ambassador to teach people with diabetes that it shouldn't hinder them from following their dreams. I am living proof that this can happen,” RaeLynn said in a statement, with Vereen adding that “diabetes does not have to hold you back.”

Novo has also gone the celebrity route in its brand marketing, drafting NBA Hall of Famer and Type 2 diabetes sufferer Dominique Wilkins to promote GLP-1 med Victoza. Last summer, the pharma re-signed the star to tout a “Diabetes Dream Team” theme--and meet one lucky contest winner--in his second year as a spokesman for the drug.

And right now, Novo can use the publicity. Victoza is getting a run for its money from Eli Lilly ($LLY) GLP-1 rival Trulicity, and SGLT2 meds--Lilly and Boehringer Ingelheim’s Jardiance, Johnson & Johnson’s ($JNJ) Invokana and AstraZeneca’s ($AZN) Farxiga--are winning market share thanks to outcomes data that last year showed Jardiance could cut the cut the combined risk of heart attack, stroke and cardiovascular death by 14%.

- read Novo's release

Special Report: The top 10 best-selling diabetes drugs of 2013

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