Onyx heads up narcolepsy brief

Onyx Health has won a UK account to promote a treatment for narcolepsy - the condition which causes daytime drowsiness and disturbed sleep.

The agency emerged victorious after a two-way pitch. It will promote Xyrem, manufactured by UCB, which treats adult narcolepsy with cataplexy. Since only 2,000 UK residents are currently diagnosed with the condition, Onyx’s four-strong account team will concentrate on raising awareness with public and medical audiences.

The account will be led by Onyx founder and MD Karen Winterhalter, reporting to Rupert Haynes, UCB’s business unit manager for Xyrem. A media relations campaign will focus on the impact that narcolepsy and cataplexy have on people’s lives. One aim of the campaign will be to highlight the need to speed up sleep clinic referrals.

Onyx associate Sandra Dale said: ‘Narcolepsy is often diagnosed as epilepsy or depression. It can take up to 15 years for cataplectic narcolepsy to be diagnosed.’

Onyx will also target PCT commissioners to ensure that the appropriate referral pathways are followed. The agency said there are particular challenges with so-called ‘orphan drugs’ such as Xyrem, which are used to treat rare conditions.

‘They need to recognise the status of orphan drugs,’ said Dale. ‘There are procedures but they are not being implemented due to a lack of awareness. GPs have little sleep training, so patients get lost in the system.’

The issue was raised in the BBC programme, How To Sleep Better, screened earlier this year.

Narcolepsy is caused by a breakdown in the brain’s ability to regulate sleep-wake cycles normally. This means sufferers tend to switch between the two states at inappropriate times.

Cataplexy is the sudden loss of muscle tone and strength, usually caused by extreme emotion, such as laughter, anger or embarrassment. It is estimated to affect more than 60 per cent of all pat­ients with narcolepsy.

Onyx has promoted Ceph­alon’s Provigil, another sleep medicine. Winterhalter, previously Euro­­pean director of healthcare at Weber Shandwick Worldwide, foun­ded Onyx in 2003.

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