Drug Companies’ Advertising in on Medical Research Web Sites Raises Concerns
With drug marketing becoming "ultra-competitive," a number of pharmaceutical companies are breaking a "longstanding taboo" in medical publishing by placing drug advertisements alongside medical research on some Web sites, the Wall Street Journal reports. In one of the most "controversial" tactics, drug companies are placing advertisements on eMedicine.com, a site aimed at physicians that includes peer-reviewed reference material. Some ads appear on the site in the middle of scientific papers about the disease that the drug treats. The Journal reports that keeping advertisements and clinical research papers separate "has been a commandment of medical marketing to physicians." According to the American Medical Association, "Placement of advertising adjacent to editorial content on the same topic is prohibited." Some physicians and industry experts have expressed concern that such advertising has gone "too far." Michael Fleming, a physician in Shreveport, La., said "Drug ads shouldn't appear next door to professional research. ... It strikes me that they are talking down to me as a physician." Jon Alder, eMedicine's president and chief medical officer, said that while the company realizes such advertising may be "controversial," there is "no intent to mislead" physicians. "Anything that is advertised or sponsor-centered is identified as such, and there's a thorough peer-review process," he said.
eMedicine may be the only "physician-target" Web site now allowing drug advertising to appear in the middle of scientific papers, but other sites could follow, the Journal reports. Such advertising practices have forced several print medical journals such as the New England Journal of Medicine "to exert more control over advertisers" on their Web sites, the Journal reports. In its print journal, NEJM runs advertising only in the front and back, away from any editorial comment. Six months ago, NEJM created a four-person committee to review any advertising on its Web site. The committee ensures ads are not "too aggressive" and reviews the claims made on Web sites that are linked to the ads. The Journal reports that placing ads next to editorial content is not illegal. While the FDA regulates claims made in drug advertisements, it has not prohibited the placing of ads next to editorial comment. But medical experts maintain that keeping such advertising away from medical studies is "crucial" to keeping the integrity of research, the Journal reports. Joetta Melton, publisher of the American Family Physician, said, "When physicians see related ads within scientific articles, the hair on the back of their necks rises." However, AstraZeneca spokesperson Jim Coyne said the online ads are designed to "point people" toward additional "balanced information." He added, "In the space of a banner [ad], we don't have the real estate to provide all the details" (O'Connell, Wall Street Journal, 3/28).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.