Thursday, June 16, 2005

New DTC Principles Emerging

Taking "One small step for a pharmaceutical company, one giant leap for the pharmaceutical industry," Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS) announced on 13 June 2005 that it will refrain from direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising for a minimum of 12 months following the launch of a new drug (see "
BRISTOL-MYERS SQUIBB ANNOUNCES NEW DTC POLICY"). It will also limit advertising on TV to "appropriate audiences at appropriate times."

BMS should be congratulated for implementing this new policy.

Of course, this action comes amid increasing criticism of DTC advertising from a number of sources (see, for example, "
The End of DTC as We Know It", "DTC Laissez-faire: A Bankrupt Policy", and "Blame the Doc, Not DTC!").

Upstaging PhRMA?
BMS may also be upstaging its rivals by anticipating voluntary DTC guidelines currently being developed by PhRMA (the industry's trade association).
The New York Times reported on 17 May 2005:
"The chief lobbyist for the pharmaceutical industry said Monday that drug companies were trying to develop a voluntary code of conduct for the advertising of prescription medicines on television and in print. The lobbyist, Billy Tauzin, president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said he hoped the standards would be issued by June or July. One purpose is to fend off more stringent federal regulation. Television commercials for some products, including erectile dysfunction drugs, have been criticized by consumer advocates and politicians and mocked by late-night comedians." (See "Drug Industry Is Said to Work on an Ad Code").
I've been told by someone close to the industry and PhRMA that this voluntary code would not likely be ready before the end of the year. Perhaps the BMS announcement will goose the process along.

New DTC Principles Emerging

The announcement by BMS and the new approach to DTC advertising taken by J&J (see "
DTC Straight Talk") begin to shed light on principles that the pharma industry will ultimately adopt for DTC advertising. So far, these principles are:
  1. Delay DTC for 1 Year After Launch. Refrain from any direct-to-consumer branded mass media (television, radio and print) advertising to promote a drug for a minimum of 12 months following its launch.
  2. Put Limits on TV DTC. When a drug is advertised on television it will be to appropriate audiences at appropriate times of the day.
  3. Submit to FDA for Prior Review. Proposed DTC advertisements will be submitted to the Food and Drug Administration for advisory comment once a decision is made that advertising for a new medication is appropriate.
  4. Balance Benefit & Risk Information in DTC. DTC ads will put drug risks on more-equal footing with drug benefits.
For more information about BMS's plan, please see its "Direct-to-Consumer Communications Code."


  1. Anonymous8:13 PM

    DTC (direct-to-consumer) Advertising is one of the most controversial practices the drug industry uses to market its various products.

    Total spending on pharmaceutical promotion grew from $11.4 billion in 1996 to $29.9 billion in 2005. Although during that time spending on direct-to-consumer advertising increased by 330%, it made up only 14% of total promotional expenditures in 2005. Direct-to-consumer campaigns generally begin within a year after the approval of a product by the FDA.

    Supporters of this form of advertising, which is banned in nearly almost all countries (excluding the United States and New Zealand) say it provides a real service to consumers, informing them of new drugs and alerting them to health problems they may be unaware of.

    Critics feel this form of advertising promotes only the most expensive new blockbuster drugs, when older and cheaper versions of drugs might be just as effective, thus driving up overall health care costs, with much emphasis placed on the high costs of prescription drugs.

    Aggressive promotion can pay off big time. Merck, maker of Vioxx, the most promoted drug, spent $161 million advertising it in 2000, and sales of Vioxx quadrupled to $1.5 billion.

    In fact, Merck spent more advertising Vioxx, according to NIHCM (National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation), than the $125 million spent promoting Pepsi or the $146 million spent on Budweiser beer ads. It even came close to the $169 million spent promoting GM's Saturn, the nation's most advertised car.

    The drug industry says its ads not only educate consumers but also prompt people who might otherwise go undiagnosed to see their doctors. Many doctors agree.

    What’s your opinion as to whether or not prescription drug advertising costs are a direct reflection to the high costs of prescription drugs in the United States.

  2. Anonymous7:14 PM

    Am highly suspicious of these self imposed regulations, they sound like my new years resolutions. They sound noble and fair but I can't help but feel that there is something we are not being told.


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