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Falling Profits for Drug Companies

With news media reporting abundant bad news about big drug companies, it’s not surprising to learn that profits are falling.

The FDA is moving more slowly than in recent years and blocking drugs that would likely have been accepted under previous practices. Doctors are prescribing fewer of the drugs that have come under scrutiny, like antidepressants. Insurance companies and some state governments have taken this as an opportunity to encourage patients to use older, generic meds.

Perhaps most damaging is that patients aren’t clamoring for the latest medications. One stock analyst chalks the public’s misgivings up to a lack of trust. Advertising has been key for generating demand for new drugs. But advertising isn’t too effective when the target market doesn’t believe the messages that companies are trying to sell.

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Education & Advertising Revisited

Yesterday I received the first mailing of Pfizer’s “Be Stronger Than Your Migraine” campaign. Disguised as a letter welcoming me to the program, the mailing was all about how the drug will change my life. The main points:

  • Don’t give up – Even if it didn’t work last time, Relpax may work in the future
  • Partner with your doctor – Your doctor needs to know how you’re doing on the drug and should give you refills before you run out

I also got the patient info sheet that’s included with every prescription. More pieces of the toolkit are supposedly on the way. Maybe they’ll even address tools other than Relpax.

Coincidentally, an e-mail message from an Ortho-McNeil employee also arrived yesterday, asking my opinion of the Topamax and Axert educational and advertising sites. Before I had a chance to look at the sites, I wondered if my response to the Relpax campaign was too harsh or not well thought out.

The answer is no.

I’m a fan of western medicine and don’t think all drug companies are bad or that “natural” treatments are better. Quite simply, I think that advertising that feeds false hope is disgusting. It’s unethical for a company that stands to profit to play into the vulnerabilities of someone with illness.

In contrast to my beef with the Pfizer site, Ortho-McNeil’s sites provide comprehensive information about migraines and possible treatments. Topamax and Axert are mentioned as what the company can offer for a preventative or abortive, but aren’t hyped. Even the drug specific websites don’t use absolutes.

My biggest complaint is the name of the site “Mind Over Migraine,” which encourages patients to be involved in their treatment and gives specific tips on how to gain some control. But there’s even a statement on the site that while you can’t think your migraines away, “you do have the power to decide whether you’ll take control of your migraines, or let them take control of you.”

What can I say? I’m impressed.

I’m not shilling for Ortho-McNeil. I don’t know if one drug is better than another – and the answer to that will depend on your body – but I’ll always support honest educational materials and a realistic approach to a medication’s results over an ad that’s framed as outreach.

(The sites I looked at: topamax.com, axert.com, 4migraineprevention.com, migrainesolutions.com, mindovermigraine.com)

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Drug Lobby Spending and Influence

Too tired to write much, but want to share this story: Drug Lobby Second to None. The Center for Public Integrity today shared findings from its study on the drug industry’s lobbying efforts. The first paragraph of the press release sums up the findings well:

“The pharmaceutical and health products industry has spent more than $800 million in federal lobbying and campaign donations at the federal and state levels in the past seven years, a Center for Public Integrity investigation has found. Its lobbying operation, on which it reports spending more than $675 million, is the biggest in the nation. No other industry has spent more money to sway public policy in that period. Its combined political outlays on lobbying and campaign contributions is topped only by the insurance industry.”