Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Direct To Consumer Advertising

To continue the thoughts from Korova's excellent post Drug Firms Fighting to Overturn Advertising Ban
I have decided to dust off my time machine and peer into the future of what the UK might be like were Big Pharma get the Direct To Consumer Advertising (DTCA)it wants. Or put simply, survey the state of play in America which is the only large market where this is allowed (I'll get to New Zealand later), Why does big pharma want DTCA? Well it's the money:

DTC advertising produces a significant return for the pharmaceutical industry: every additional $1 the industry spent on DTC advertising in 2000 yielded an additional $4.20 in sales.

Of course there is a mind bomb about to go off in America, Michael Moore's 'Sicko' when seasoned Moore haters come out saying they cried and it is a great film, then the corporate healthcare in the States is about to get a good kicking. So as responsible corporate officers whose sole guiding principle is to maximise profits they must secure new markets especially if their main cash cow is about to wake up. Thus the pressure to open up European markets. The main share of pharmaceutical marketing remains physician's however the DTCA has grow hugely since they got approval:

Despite the rise in DTC advertising, marketing to physicians remains the primary focus of drug company
marketing efforts, representing roughly 85% ($13.2 billion) of the total spending on prescription drug
promotion in 2000.

DTC promotion increased nine-fold from $266 million in 1994 to nearly $2.5 billion in 2000, largely due to growth in television advertising (13% of DTC spending in 1994, rising to 64% in 2000). Increases in DTC
spending on television ads began to increase even before the Food and Drug Administration clarified regulation
of such ads in 1997.

Now New Zealand was the only other country where DTCA was allowed, oh except:

New Zealand, the only other country beside the U.S. to allow direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising, is seeking to ban the practice effective in 2006. New Zealand’s Ministry of Health, similar to the U.S.’s Food and Drug Administration, has had a voluntary moratorium on DTC advertising in place since December of 2004. But health minister Annette King said that on the advice of professional and consumer groups, she hopes to ban DTC advertising by next year. Much like consumer advocacy groups in the U.S. claim, Ms. King said her reasoning was that the benefits of DTC do not outweigh the risks.

So a pattern emerges, of an industry rejoicing in it's revenue increase due to DTCA looking for new markets, yet where it exists it is either in the process of being stopped, or provides ample evidence of its deleterious effects on health and may be in trouble. Of course the story of Vioxx is infamous but some smaller facts fall through the net:

In 2000, Vioxx was the number one DTC-advertised drug – at $160 million, larger than the campaigns that year for Pepsi and Budweiser – and retail sales quadrupled.[4] With as many as 140,000 serious cardiovascular events due to Vioxx alone,[5] the dangers of such promotions are now increasingly apparent.

Bigger than Pepsi and Budweiser, and if we take the rough maths that for each dollar spent on DTCA it makes 4 dollars for the corporation that's $640 million extra revenue. The bottom line is there are huge amounts of money to be made here and that strikes at the essential question, does the economy serve the people (and their health) or do we serve the economy? Are the profits of Big Pharma (who it is now claimed spend more on marketting than R&D, and even then the research is in existing drugs to retain patent rights, only 12% are new priority drugs) more important than our health?