Video: Do you suffer from restless leg syndrome?

NBC Universal Anchors and Correspondents
By Josh Mankiewicz Correspondent
NBC News
updated 1/31/2007 10:57:18 PM ET 2007-02-01T03:57:18

LOS ANGELES — The television ads for restless legs syndrome show you the problem, and the solution.

The syndrome, known commonly as RLS, affects millions and has been known to some for at least 60 years. But until recently, most people — even many physicians — had never heard of it. The drug company GlaxoSmithKline changed that.

The first ads were about symptoms and didn't mention Requip, the drug manufactured by Glaxo that combats RLS. Instead, Glaxo focused on turning RLS into a household name.

"I'm not generally a big fan of direct-to-consumer TV ads," says Dr. Mark Buchfuhrer. "However, for this particular disorder, I think they've done a great service by spending most of the time identifying the problem."

But in the process, Glaxo also identified a market and began introducing Americans to a problem many people didn't realize they had, or had never mentioned to their physicians.

"This is by no means a new concept, you can go back the 1930s when Listerine first coined the term halitosis to capture the idea of bad breath," says Vincent Parry with Y Brand, a XXXXXX. "So, you have a problem and an identified solution."

Requip already existed as a medication for Parkinson's disease, but in 2005 it was also cleared as the first treatment for RLS, and sales took off — nearly doubling — earning Glaxo hundreds of millions of dollars and giving RLS patients like Cada Kilgore a good night's sleep.

"Worked like a charm, never had a problem since," Kilgore says.

Some doctors question whether RLS is as prevalent as the ads make it seem. And early on, some Glaxo executives also were skeptical, as can be heard in an excerpt from a conference call with financial analysts last October.

"Many of you doubted the potential of this indication. I doubted the potential of this indication, and there was a lot of debate within the company.  But clearly, our marketers knew what they were doing, and it's been a success for us."

An old disorder has a new treatment, and it's as much a triumph of marketing as medicine.

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