Pfizer Announces Moratorium on Direct-to-Consumer Advertisements for New Medications
Officials for New York-based Pfizer on Thursday announced that the company will implement a six-month moratorium on direct-to-consumer advertisements for new medications and will improve information on safety risks in ads, USA Today reports. The announcement follows the release of voluntary DTC ad guidelines by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America last week (Schmit/Petrecca, USA Today, 8/11).
The PhRMA guidelines, which seek to eliminate misleading ads that can lead to unnecessary prescriptions, recommend that pharmaceutical companies: restrict DTC ads for erectile dysfunction and similar medications to television programs "reasonably expected" to attract an 80% adult audience; spend an appropriate amount of time to educate physicians about new medications before the launch of DTC ads for the treatments; submit TV ads to FDA before they air; end the use of "reminder" TV ads that name medications but do not provide details on their uses or safety risks; and include in DTC ads clear language on the safety risks and benefits of medications.
After the release of the guidelines, 23 pharmaceutical companies -- such as Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Schering-Plough, Eli Lilly, Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline -- agreed to follow them (California Healthline, 8/3). On Thursday, other large pharmaceutical companies, such as Roche and Novartis, agreed to follow the guidelines.
According to Bloomberg/New York Times, some of the Pfizer guidelines are more specific than those made by PhRMA. For example, the PhRMA guidelines did not indicate the length of time that pharmaceutical companies should delay DTC ads for new medications (Bloomberg/New York Times, 8/12). Pfizer officials said that the company will use the six-month moratorium to educate physicians about new medications (Higgins, Washington Times, 8/12).
In addition, Pfizer officials said that the company will focus more on the promotion of alternatives to medications, such as exercise and lifestyle changes, and will provide information on the safety risks and benefits of treatments in clearer language.
Pfizer last month submitted an ad template to FDA that included bulleted "important facts" that explain the safety risks of a medication, as well as how and when to take a treatment. Pfizer developed the bullets to replace "the tiny type on the reverse of print ads," the Journal reports (Hensley, Wall Street Journal, 8/12).
Pfizer officials also said that the company will submit DTC ads to FDA for comment before they are made public and will invest a "meaningful amount" in ads developed to increase awareness about certain diseases that do not mention specific treatments (Bloomberg/New York Times, 8/12). Pfizer officials said that the company next year will spend the same amount on disease awareness ads and product ads. According to IMS Health, Pfizer last year spent $574 million on DTC ads (Agovino, AP/San Luis Obispo Tribune, 8/11).
In addition, Pfizer officials said that the company will restrict DTC ads for the ED medication Viagra to TV programs expected to attract a 90% adult audience (Washington Times, 8/12). Pfizer has implemented some of the guidelines, and the remainder will take effect by the end of the year, according to the Wall Street Journal (Wall Street Journal, 8/12).
J. Patrick Kelly, president of U.S. pharmaceuticals at Pfizer, said, "Our advertising is meant to do two things. We want people to be aware of serious medical conditions and our medicines that treat those conditions, and we want to motivate them to talk to their doctors" (Bloomberg/New York Times, 8/12). He added, "We believe it's our responsibility to communicate this information effectively so patients can work with their health care providers to make informed decisions about their health and get appropriately diagnosed and treated" (Stringer, Detroit Free Press, 8/12).
Kelly said that the PhRMA guidelines "provided us with a platform to build more specific guidelines to continue providing consumers information while also addressing the concerns of our critics." He said the Pfizer proposals exceed the efforts of other pharmaceutical companies to address criticism of DTC ads (AP/San Luis Obispo Tribune, 8/11).
Greg Duncan, a marketing vice president at Pfizer, said, "We've gotten some critical feedback, and we're adapting our techniques" (Wall Street Journal, 8/12).
Nick Smith, a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), said, "Senator Frist is encouraged that companies are finally taking notice. However, there's more to be done" (Bloomberg/New York Times, 8/12).
Stuart Klein, president of the health care advertising firm Quantum, said that the Pfizer proposals are "the right step toward improving the perception" of DTC ads, as well as the pharmaceutical industry (Wall Street Journal, 8/12).
Mark Bard, a consultant at Manhattan Research, said, "Pfizer has arguably set the industry standard" for DTC ads.
However, pharmaceutical industry consultant Louis Morris questioned whether other pharmaceutical companies will follow Pfizer and place a six-month moratorium on DTC ads for new medications. "There's the pressure to follow the code, and there's the pressure to make a profit," Morris said, adding that Pfizer is "limiting its options" (USA Today, 8/11).
Sidney Wolfe, director of the Health Research Group at Public Citizen, called the Pfizer proposals "another PR stunt," adding, "The main purpose is to polish up the extremely tarnished image that Pfizer and the entire drug industry has right now" (Starkman, Washington Post, 8/12). Wolfe added that DTC ads will not improve without federal regulation (USA Today, 8/11).