Pfizer turns the sex talk toward 50-ish women with menopause awareness push

Anyone who's watched a Viagra commercial knows that Pfizer ($PFE) isn't too embarrassed to talk about sex. Anyone who's run across Pfizer's "Get Old" campaign knows it doesn't shy away from aging, either. Now, the drug giant is going equal opportunity on the sex-and-aging talk, and "Desperate Housewives" actress Brenda Strong has the dialogue.

With its latest menopause awareness campaign, Pfizer is taking a break from hot flashes and night sweats. Instead, it's focusing on some lesser-known effects of menopause, namely painful intercourse and vaginal atrophy. They're not terms tossed around at your average dinner party, and Pfizer's campaign capitalizes on the uncomfortable.

Brenda Strong

Aptly titled "Let's Talk About Change," the campaign has launched with a YouTube video titled "The Other Talk." In one scene, Strong's character engages her daughter in the birds-and-bees conversation so often lampooned in Hollywood comedies. Predictably, said daughter closes the door in her mother's face. But then the tables are turned. Strong's character finds herself in an awkward conversation with her mother--about menopause and its effects on her mother's sex life.

Talk about squirm-worthy. The vaginal problems are "manageable" and "normal," the mother says. Strong's character replies, "The changes might be normal, but talking about my mother's sex life certainly isn't."

Pfizer's point is that women need to talk to someone about these little-known effects of menopause. If not their mothers, then perhaps their partners--and most importantly for Pfizer, their doctors. "It's our hope that 'The Other Talk' video will prompt new dialogue about the symptoms of post-menopause," Strong says in a Pfizer release. "The video is funny, but has an important message--more women should be talking about these changes and taking action to help find relief. Women should not have to suffer in silence."

If women did ask their doctors--and if the conversation goes as Pfizer might hope--women would not only hear about symptoms but also get information about the company's products for those very symptoms.

To give a nudge, the "Let's Talk" home page includes a link to Pfizer's Estring brand website. A vaginal ring that releases estrogen over a 90-day period, Estring is approved specifically to treat any unpleasant menopausal changes in the vagina and is designed to act locally rather than systemically. Among its rivals is Osphena, approved in February 2013; Shionogi specifically touts it as a nonestrogen treatment for vaginal changes around menopause.

Estring is just one in Pfizer's lineup of hormonal treatments for menopausal side effects. Its Premarin line of products, acquired along with Wyeth in 2009, still generates blockbuster-level sales, with $768 million for the first 9 months of 2014. Pfizer knows well about potential side effects of hormonal therapy in menopausal women; it paid $1.2 billion in 2012 to settle lawsuits over its Prempro drug and its links to breast cancer.

In October 2013, the company won approval for Duavee, which pairs estrogen with bazedoxifene, an ingredient designed to temper some of the safety risks that can accompany solo therapy with estrogen. Approved to treat hot flashes and to help prevent postmenopausal osteoporosis, the drug goes up against a new nonhormonal pill for hot flashes, Brisdelle, and a variety of hormone-based osteoporosis fighters, including Eli Lilly's ($LLY) Evista.

- see the release from Pfizer
- check out "The Other Talk" video

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