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Bob Ehrlich's blog on blogs – July 29, 2008

Cliff Mintz in BioJobBlog (July 12) says pharma has discovered You Tube in a big way. He says many drug companies are using it to post ads, educational videos and creating contests for consumers to create videos on what it is like to have certain diseases. He singles out J&J saying “these pharma assaults on YouTube pale in comparison to the launch of Jonson & Johnson’s health channel on YouTube.” He says social media is the “next best thing since DTC advertising.” His concern is that this is unregulated, and like the rest of the Internet, needs clarification from the FDA on what is permissible. I doubt conservative big pharma is going to post anything that is not fully vetted by their regulatory and legal group, so Mr. Mintz should not expect unapproved YouTube drug claims coming from pharma.

The Wall Street Journal Health Blog of 7/22 from Sarah Rubenstein also deals with social media use. This blog, however, is concerned with doctors using social media like YouTube to push their services. Doctors are apparently offering discounts for consumers to give online testimonials. Now, here is where I get concerned about unregulated claims. Many of the social media is used for cosmetic procedures and there are many less than qualified physicians dabbling in cosmetic surgeries.

Before anyone gets too excited about Internet social media, HeathCare Vox reports that most drug discussions happen peer to peer directly rather than online. Fard Johnmar writes on July 18 that less than 10% of social drug discussion happens online while 74% occurs offline. His conclusion is that while the Internet is important, marketers must remember most social interaction happens other ways.

In his July 24 Pharma Marketing Blog, John Mack noted that Lyrica, the Pfizer drug for fibromyalgia, had recently modified its DTC ads. Pfizer had run a controversial ad showing what looked like a battered woman to demonstrate how a patient feels when they have painful fibromyalgia. Mack had commented in prior blogs that he did not like the portrayal of woman as battered. He said it showed DTC entering a new low in how far it would go to sell product. The new Lyrica ad is much more upbeat and John Mack wonders if he may have been responsible for the ad change. I doubt Pfizer would have changed its ad for any other reason than this one tested better. Mack may be correct that disturbing images may turn off potential users and therefore, the happy couple ad now used is more appealing.

Mr. Mack also had an interesting blog wondering about how long a DTC ad can say “new” in advertising. His blog of July 17 questions whether a product that agrees to a 6 month moratorium for new products can still use the word new in its DTC advertising. DDMAC says new is usually only used for 6 months from the start of marketing, which would be to doctors first. Mack bring ups an interesting point. Once the 6 months marketing is done and DTC starts, does that now preclude use of the term new in DTC? My take is that it is not that important whether new is used in the ads. We (I worked on it at launch) did not advertise Lipitor for 2 years after launch and the use of new was not considered important in our success. I think the term new has more meaning in consumer products ads than in drug ads.

In Joe Mantone’s Wall Street Journal 7/23 blog, he writes about a column by fellow columnist Dr. Benjamin Brewer. This column points out that consumers are increasingly skipping medical care to save money. While this column appears to be only based on anecdotal evidence, it seems reasonable to conclude that consumers may be saving money by putting off medical tests and self-medicating versus visiting a doctor. Dr. Brewer’s concern is that he thinks waiting to see a doctor leads to potentially higher risks and costs later. This leads to a thought that in bad economic times public health campaigns may be needed even more to motivate consumers not to put off health checks.

The Wall Street Journal’s Alicia Mundy (July 17) discussed in her blog how drug lobbyists are dealing with the fallout of the Dingell/Stupak hearings. She reports that two lawyers from PhRMA visited Congressional staffers to discuss industry steps to regulate DTC. Dingell told the WSJ, “I’m pleased that PhRMA is reviewing its DTC guidelines and has met with the committee to discuss the concerns we outlined.” Dingell also said that if PhRMA is going to be serious about resolving concerns, then they would not hold additional hearings. Dingell did also play the heavy saying that they expect results, and if that does not happen in a timely manner, “the committee will be forced to consider whether a public airing would be a more productive way to proceed.” I doubt much will happen until we see the results of the 2008 elections. I am sure there will be more aggressive attempts to add a moratorium and pre-clearance if we have a firmer majority of Democrats in Congress and an Obama victory. PhRMA clearly wants to keep inflammatory issues off the radar screen in a more hostile legislative environment.

The Prescription Access Litigation (PAL) blog of July 25 raised alarm bells about how consumer prescription data is being mined. Their concern is that patient prescription records are being sold by drug chains for data mining purposes. PAL says data mining is wrong and leads to nefarious use of patient data. One of the issues they say is that insurance companies use your prescription data to deny coverage. PAL wants to see more privacy regulation and is part of litigation to support states’ efforts to curb data mining. The drug companies would argue that data mining offers consumers relevant information and is kept private.

Mike Huckman of CNBC blogged on 7/24 that the economy may be having a negative effect on erectile dysfunction drugs. Since these drugs are “pricey and may not be covered by insurance,” Huckman says there is some sales evidence that ED drug sales are declining. Huckman’s blog brings up an interesting implication for DTC. Consumers are really more in charge of their economic outlays for prescriptions, not just for ED but for any drugs with a high price tag and high co-pays. Any branded drug maker needs to recognize that they must prove value to consumers compared to cheaper b
rands and much cheaper generics. The slow economy only heightens this trend to consumer power.

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