UPDATED: Shire's Vyvanse brand team draws fire for aggressive binge-eating push

Shire is pushing full steam ahead to get the word out on binge eating disorder (BED), the new indication it snagged for blockbuster Vyvanse last month. But some doctors think the Dublin drugmaker may be taking the marketing a bit too far, considering Vyvanse's abuse potential.

Monica Seles

So far, Shire's ($SHPG) launched a marketing campaign with tennis star and former BED sufferer Monica Seles, beefed up its neuroscience sales force, rolled out a pair of websites devoted to disease education and Vyvanse information, partnered with the Binge Eating Disorder Association and the National Eating Disorders Association on national awareness efforts, and started up a clinical nurse educator program to get the word out to healthcare professionals. After all, it's hard to grow scripts if docs and patients don't know about the malady or how to ID it.

But all of these activities worry some medical professionals, considering that Vyvanse is essentially an amphetamine, The New York Times notes. And amphetamines have a long history of triggering abuse in overweight patients, a category that describes about 80% of binge-eaters, according to Shire--though the company notes that Vyvanse shouldn't be used as a weight loss or obesity treatment.

"Now we have another reason for the public to learn about the glories of amphetamine--it's very worrisome," one behavioral pediatrician told the paper. The chief medical officer of Phoenix House, a drug treatment organization, remarked that there are "so many reasons to be concerned about this."

Shire's track record isn't helping much. Last fall, the pharma shelled out $56.6 million to settle federal charges that it crossed the line while promoting Vyvanse, the Times notes. Among the claims was that Shire played down Vyvanse's addiction potential--an allegation the company denies.

But from Shire's perspective, "we believe we have a responsibility to provide balanced information about the medications we bring to market and the conditions they treat, as well as advocate for the patients who suffer from these disorders," spokeswoman Gwen Fisher told FiercePharmaMarketing by email. "In discussing Vyvanse or BED with healthcare professionals, we're careful to point out that medication is not appropriate for all adults with BED."

The websites and online advertising "are intended to reach those who are appropriately diagnosed and who can be possibly helped with medical treatment. We also want to help those who may have the condition, but are undiagnosed, by encouraging them to seek a full medical assessment by a professional," she said in a separate email earlier this month.

Seles, for her part, told the NYT she joined up with Shire because she wanted fellow binge eaters to know they weren't alone. But she puts the onus on consumers to make the treatment decisions that are best for them.

"Every time I turn on the TV, there are different food companies telling me to eat this burger, eat these chips," she said. "I have to make the educated choice of what I want to do. It's the same thing here."

- read the NYT story (sub. req.)

Special Report: The 25 most influential people in biopharma today - 2013 - Flemming Ornskov - Shire

Editor's note: This story has been updated with comments from Shire spokeswoman Gwen Fisher.