As I sat through the many DTC presentations last week at The DTC National Conference I took note of the people actually creating DTC. They all struck me as passionate about their products and their customers. While it is easy to be cynical about the drug companies as corporate entities it is harder when you see their employees discuss DTC.
I wish Bernie Sanders could have a dialog with these people who actually create DTC ads. It is easier to hate a multibillion dollar corporation than the people who work there. In 17 years of doing these conferences, never once did I hear a drug company delegate publicly or privately state a desire to put profit over patient well being. That does not mean there are no issues on pricing, overuse, safety or effectiveness. What it does mean is the people who work on these drugs really do care deeply about helping patients.
We heard about the great new PhRMA GoBoldly industry campaign from its agency creators Y&R. What we saw was the use of real researchers who work at the drug companies tell their stories on developing new drugs. We might think from listening to critics that drug researchers are working on “made up” diseases just to hook us on treatment. We see in reality researchers spending their whole careers to cure cancer, Alzheimer’s, depression, diabetes, asthma, and many others. They care about patients, not something you hear from our critics, who see conspiracies at every turn.
While it is very clear that our advertising is meant to create awareness and designed to sell more product, that is not a negative. In fact all the competitive DTC leads to better products and more price competition as payers and patients are aware they have choices. True, if every doctor and insurer was totally knowledgeable and acting always in the patient interest, maybe DTC would not be needed. We know, however, that is not the real world. DTC just acts as a catalyst to make all constituencies more aware what is out there. DTC provides a push for insurers to cover new treatments as we know they will hesitate based on cost.
One of the interesting recurring discussions was over how to deal with price. We had several legislative experts tell us what Congress may do to lower drug prices. It is likely something will happen to mandate, encourage, cajole, embarrass, or incentivize drug companies to lower prices. There are a menu of options and none of them great for drug companies. The bottom line is the American consumer does subsidize prices for Canadians and Europeans. That is a very difficult reality with no good solution.
Dr. David Kessler, former FDA Commissioner, said he is not anti DTC, but thinks we must understand that advertising high price drugs may be a step too far. He was against DTC branded ads on television when he left the FDA in 2/97 and after he left we all know in 8/97 it was allowed. He does appear to accept DTC as he says it is the “purest” form of advertising because it follows approved labels. He warns us not to ever do off label DTC, something the courts may eventually allow but no drug company will likely risk doing for DTC. Off label use is something better left for drug company and physician discussions.
The many case studies we heard from drug marketers clearly showed the first priority for them is to educate and help patients. While well aware of the need to get a positive ROI they see that as the end result of helping patients. It was great to spend a few days with this group of dedicated professionals who chose to work in this industry to help people. Profit is what drives the engine for drug makers, but making a profit while doing good is not an inconsistent goal.