Who'd like Tom Hanks to be their diabetes role model?

Look up the word "likable" in an actor's guidebook, and you'd find a picture of Tom Hanks. Ask his doctor, and you'd discover he has Type 2 diabetes. Put those two together, and you have a good-natured announcement about his diagnosis this week on "Late Show with David Letterman."

Add the fast-growing number of diabetes cases around the world--and the pharma-industry jostling for market share--and you have a potential disease-awareness campaign made in heaven.

Just consider his television appearance. "It's controllable," Hanks told Letterman, before launching into a joke about his doctor's orders to lose weight. Later, Hanks tweeted a pledge to take care of himself: "I can manage with good habits. I shall!"

Hanks joins a line-up of celebs who deal with diabetes, including his "Cloud Atlas" co-star Halle Berry, who has Type 1. Berry signed on years ago as a spokeswoman for a Diabetes Aware Campaign, aimed at educating African-Americans at risk of developing Type 2. And then there's Paula Deen, the TV chef who was working with Novo Nordisk ($NVO) on diabetes awareness until that racist-comment controversy earlier this year. Novo suspended their promotional efforts then, amid the ensuing outcry.

Celebrity spokespeople can be very effective in gaining attention for a disease--and for its treatment. That's why so many drugmakers sign up well-known actors, singers and, yes, chefs to speak on their behalf. Think Sally Field and her Boniva commercials for Genentech, Roche's ($RHHBY) U.S. unit. Mylan ($MYL), which makes the anaphylaxis-fighting EpiPen, recently teamed up with Julie Bowen, who plays Claire Dunphy on "Modern Family," to talk about kids with severe allergies. But as the Deen controversy shows, those relationships can also backfire.

It's tough to imagine good-guy Hanks stirring up trouble. That, and his Academy Award-studded career, and his aforementioned likability--and his currently trim, fit self--could help get people feeling good about seeking diagnosis and treatment. Would he sign up with Novo, Eli Lilly ($LLY), Sanofi ($SNY), or Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) and AstraZeneca ($AZN)? Or, perhaps more likely, a public health campaign with the American Diabetes Association? We'll bet that some savvy pharma marketers are already asking themselves that question.

- read the Los Angeles Times story

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