Friday, February 24, 2006

GSK's "Plain Talk" Flawed

This discussion starts with the post I made a few days ago about GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) using sales reps to spread the word about the value of brand drugs (see "Sales Reps Make Poor Spokespeople").

The use of sales reps is only part of GSK's multi-faceted campaign entitled "Plain Talk." Drug reps are most probably focusing their efforts on their doctor clients (see Sam Nalbone's comments quoted yesterday in "
Pharma PR: It's All About Defending Drug Prices".
Whole Story
Another facet of this campaign, however, is focused on consumers and can be found at the WebMD mini-site called "
The Center For Plain Talk About Medicines In America" that GSK is sponsoring (the image on the left is used to advertise the Center on other Web sites; compliments of adverlicio.us).

GSK makes the argument (among others) that improved healthcare in America -- due mostly to prescription medicines and measured by life expectancy -- would be endangered if price controls such as those used in countries like Canada were adopted here in the US. This argument is presented in the section "Why Do Medicines Seem So Expensive?"


1. Medicines help Americans live longer
(GSK claims)

"Here's something else you should know," says GSK, "Advances in medicines -- including antibiotics and medicines to treat and prevent heart disease -- have helped increase the average lifespan of a person born in the US to close to 80 years."


In fact, life expectancy (LE) -- as shown in the chart below the above statement on the WebMD site -- for the US is 77.4 years; close to 80,
but no cigar. It's actually closer to 75 than 80. I'm not a fan of rounding up to improve your argument, but OK, let's not quibble. It's good that life expectancy is rising in the US.

2. Price Controls are not necessary
(GSK claims)

"Because America is the world's prescription medicine research and development (R&D) powerhouse, most new and breakthrough medicines originate here and become available to American consumers faster and more readily than in countries like
Canada, [my emphasis] which have price controls. These countries have made a choice to limit the availability of medicines (and healthcare generally) to control costs."

Here's how I read the message: If the US were to limit prices and control costs like Canada, US citizens' health will suffer.


3. But using GSK's own indicator of health (ie, life expectancy), Canada (as well as many other
countries that control costs), is better off than the US:

According to
CIA World Factbook (can't get much more "fact-founded" than that unless you buyin to the Bush administration's notion that the CIA is a bunch of jerks who can't get their facts straight), the life expectancy at birth for Canadians is 80.1 years (2005 est.), which is REALLY close to 80 and even better! The U.S., which ranks 48 out of 226 in the CIA list, has an LE of 77.1 years, which is close to what GSK says. BTW, Canada ranks 12th.
"The life expectancy in the US is brought down by our high infant mortality rate and similar factors. I hypothesize that upper middle class Caucasian men and women of Northern and Western European ancestry live quite long in the US." -- Kathy O'Neill
Bosnia and Herzegovina, which has an infant mortality rate of 21.05 deaths/100 live births (compared to the US's 6.5/1000) has an LE of 77.83 years, about 0.73 years more than the US (about the extra life cancer patients might get from Avastin).

Whatever the case, all this discussion, which focuses a lot of criticism (as well as praise) on GSK's "go-it-alone" PR campaign, is an example of why this kind of PR task should, according to some people, be left to PhRMA.

"Clarence," GSK's R&D Guy, Trumps "Jamie," Pfizer Viagra Guy!
I much prefer GSK's TV ads that feature research scientists speaking about how difficult it is to develop new drugs. Last night, I saw a new version of this ad in which the on-screen personality introduces himself as "Clarence." This is the kind of personalization of the message that I have recommended all along (see, for example, "
Blogs and the Pharmaceutical Industry").

I can't wait to learn more about Clarence and what he does at GSK! But I would not be interested in hearing from "Jamie," the sales rep dude, discussing how difficult it is to convince docs how cheap drugs really are!


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