It’s going to look like an awareness campaign – and also that history is being made – when a 30-second commercial about menopausal hot flashes screens during the Super Bowl tomorrow.
This is the American National Football League championships, which are watched by about 100 million people and known for their clever advertisements.
In the ad, an actress names Carmella Riley “takes to the streets” to ask women if they know what “VMS” means, with viewers ultimately funneled to WhatsVMS.com, a website that reminds me a little of what Satan’s living room might look like.
The commercial is part of a campaign that’s been running on television since August, focusing on the technical term for hot flashes and night sweats, vasomotor symptoms (VMS).
Like so many clever ad campaigns these days, in “What's VMS?” the actual product is never mentioned and the marketing is presented as education.
In reality the spot is funded by Japanese drug maker Astellas Pharma, which has a new non-hormonal therapy for hot flashes they are expecting to be approved by US regulators 11 days after the spot screens, on February 22.
It’s called fezolinetant, and it’s part of a class of drugs known as selective neurokinin-3 receptor (NK3R) antagonists, which were originally developed to treat schizophrenia.
But back to that “VMS campaign” for a minute.
About half the Super Bowl viewership is female, and as Astellas’ senior director of marketing and women’s health Jill Jaroch tells EndPoints News, the ad is targeting the 17 million of them who are in prime hot flashes territory: ages 35-64.
“Our objective is to broadly raise awareness of vasomotor symptoms associated with menopause as a medical condition and really empower women to have informed conversations with their healthcare providers,” she says. “So what better way to reach as many people as we can than during the Big Game?”
That’s lovely Jill. I love empowering women too. But it’s hard to imagine that the people at Astellas would shell out US$6.5 million, which according to Forbes, is the average cost of 30-second Super Bowl ad this year, if they didn’t have a game-changing drug for hot flashes about to hit the market imminently.
This may all seem progressive for the US menopause conversation – and I suspect it’s going to be written about it that way come Monday – but it’s really subversive marketing. It lets a drug company create hype for a new drug without having to address any of its side effects. And there are always side effects. We’ll get to hear about those when the inevitable actual fezolinetant ads hit small screens, in a comically sped-up voiceover in the final seconds, no doubt.
In the meantime, anyone who visits the website out of curiosity will be prompted to “sign up to learn more” and when they do, they will be giving Astellas their email address and a direct pipeline for marketing once fezolinetant is approved. Brilliant.
There is a real need for non-hormonal treatments for hot flashes, as many women can’t take HRT. (Although Pycnogenol works for me! No affiliation!)
But there is also so much more to this story, and I lost my weekend obsessively learning about it: how selective neurokinin-3 receptor (NK3R) drugs work, the safety and efficacy of fezolinetant and its would-be competitors, how Astellas has been stealth marketing this for years, the market potential (H-U-G-E), the race to bring the first NK3R to market, and more.
I’ll be laying it all out for Hotflash inc paid subscribers on Tuesday.
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Do whales have hot flashes, too?
Now that whales are firmly in the “menopause club” – along with a lot of other creatures that everyone else just ignores – a series of researchers are working to find out why.
In a study just published in Current Biology, scientists in the UK and the US have found that grown male orcas – as the New York Times puts it, “one of the planet’s fiercest hunters” – literally need their mothers to survive.
And this feeding, researchers believe, is why they stop having children of their own.
According to the Times: “He’s a wily, streamlined torpedo who can weigh as much as 11 tons. No other animal preys on him. Yet in at least one population, these apex predators struggle to survive without their moms, who catch their food and even cut it up for them.”
My favorite line of this entire article came at the end and spoke so perfectly to the burden (and joy) of motherhood that I so admire all you mamas for.
One of the researchers said this finding presents raises an age-old question for wildlife that all humans grapple with: “When should a parent cut off their young?” According to Dr Michael Weiss, research director at the US Center for Whale Research, this looks to be first time the answer is: “Never. You don’t stop.”
Here comes more science
• A new meta-analysis published in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed that Vitamin D supplementation reduced the risk of people with prediabetes developing diabetes, up to 15 percent. Previous results have been mixed Medscape
• Guess what came out on top of a review of more than 250 studies on interventions to change gene expression so as to slow or halt the onset of Alzheimer’s disease? Exercise. Funny how these lifestyle-focused studies never grab headlines like a study on new medication or HRT does Scientific Reports
• This piece looks at how advances in neuroimaging – positron emission tomography (PET) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) – are helping explain how psychedelics work on the brain. One takeaway: “These studies have revealed that psychedelics cause brain regions whose activity is normally robustly coupled to become less coordinated. And many regions that are usually only loosely connected start to communicate with each other more.” (Echoing Timothy Leary and co’s words decades ago, they essentially free up the brain’s “ordinary patterns and structures”.) Also, no one agrees on anything, the studies are small and results inconclusive. Nature
How we really feel about aging
Oldster Magazine (Substack) is the brainchild of Sari Botton, a bestselling writer, editor, and teacher living in Kingston, NY who recently debuted her memoir, And You May Find Yourself: Confessions of a Late-Blooming Gen-X Weirdo. She does Q+As with notables and asks all sorts of cool things. Reading the author Gayle Brandeis (who wrote the essay collection Drawing Breath: Essays on Writing, the Body, and Loss) talk about the chorus of “things to worry about” involved in being 54 really resonated.
What is difficult about being your age?
I plan on living a good long while, but it’s hard to avoid the looming specter of mortality as one gets older. Awareness of my mortality fuels me in positive, inspiring, ways – it makes me want to be fully alive while I’m still alive – but it also leads to a lot of worrying. Worrying, for example, that I won't have enough time to read all the books I want to read, or write all the projects kicking around inside of me. Worrying I won’t get to meet my future grandkids. Worrying I'll lose my memory. Worrying about not being as financially secure as I “should” be, and what that means for my old age. Seeing my aging neck on Zoom. (I understand intellectually that cringing upon seeing my neck is fueled by patriarchy and misogyny and capitalism, and know that no one other than me is going to care that my neck is loose and crepey, but I still cringe. Each time I do, I try to remember send my neck love and thank it for all it does for me.)
Emily Post went through menopause too
Etiquette has been a big subject recently, what with The Cut’s Feb. 2, 140-item Do You Know How To Behave? list. Obviously it was divisive: “wildly out-of-touch” to the New York Post, while the Independent called it “deranged”. I found it amusing, and a few items had me cheering (#54: Don’t browbeat anyone into joining a game at a party). It was also exhausting (#78: Don’t talk about a movie when leaving the theatre), mean (#40: Don’t touch the small of my back to move around me if you’re ugly) And weird (#38: Always wink).
Perhaps the most relevant to us these days, however, and a good guideline, was this:
9. If someone starts telling you a story you’ve heard before, you have two seconds to tell them.
Interject with “Oh my gosh, that was hilarious,” or “truly horrific,” or “unbelievable — you’ve told me.” But if you don’t say it within the allotted time, you just have to listen to them tell the story again. And if you’re in a larger group, you just have to listen, period.
TueNight’s Margit Detweiler responded with The Midlife Woman’s Version of New York Magazine’s Etiquette Rules, and it’s great. Especially this one:
17. Everything in your midlife body that feels “off” is probably perimenopause. Even the itchy things. Unless you have crabs. Then it’s definitely crabs.
— Ellie Dvorkin Dunn and Julia Granacki, Circling the Drain Podcast
Read, watch, follow, learn, click
• What happens during menopause? Science is finally piecing it together National Geographic UK
• If you are struggling to understand what Web 3.0 is and how you fit into it (because it sure seems like it’s going to impact every single facet of our lives, including health care) you could do worse than watch this TikTok about it. It’s one of the most succinct explanations I’ve seen The Merc
• Pamela Anderson gets hot flashes too Yahoo
• “It’s frustrating, dehumanizing, and gets in the way of self-trust and getting the care we need for very real medical concerns”: American family physician and women’s health expert Dr Aviva Romm gives a name to something we’ve all experienced. It’s perfect: “medsplaining” Instagram
• What Is “Normal” When It Comes to Menopause? Hint: Nothing (Why trying to define what’s normal for all women will likely leave Black women behind) Oprah Daily
I finally don’t have pink eye(s). Is there anything better than not having pink eye? Drop me a line if you can think of something. AMx
Hey! Yes it just sent… let me know what you think and if there are any things you think I should follow up on.
I’m excited to read your article. Does it go out tomorrow?