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Big Pharma Loves to Create Drama


May 18, 2017 – The FDA regulates direct-to-consumer marketing of pharmaceutical products, but it does not regulate “Disease Awareness” marketing on TV.


One of the main characters in the daytime drama, General Hospital, has been battling polycythemia vera (PV), an extremely rare bone marrow cancer. As reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Anna Devane, as played by actress Finola Hughes, had been diagnosed with that particular cancer in part because drug-maker Incyte asked the writers to include mention of the disease.


It’s no secret to most industry observers – Big Pharma’s guiding light is profit, profit, profit – and drug companies have become ever more inventive when it comes to meeting shareholder expectations. Though the FDA regulates direct-to-consumer marketing, it makes no effort to regulate drug awareness marketing—and so what are the implications for drug awareness marketing that promotes a single drug?


On General Hospital, Anna Devane pleads, “How do we beat it?” Her doctor recommends beginning therapy with anticoagulation and phlebotomy, to which she responds, “I have to keep going to bloodlettings for the rest of my life?” Subtle. But actress Finola Hugues has also been doing interviews, here and here and on Fox News, in order to “bring awareness to a rare blood cancer.”


For real doctors, these campaigns become problematic when the clear goal is to increase the market for one particular drug. Indeed, noting that diagnosis for PV is very “fungible,” the authors of the JAMA paper warn that “awareness” campaigns often lead to unintended consequences, including wasteful diagnostic testing, overdiagnosis, and patients demanding therapies that may not be appropriate.


One more thing for the FDA to watch…

Read the full vox.com article here:

“Big pharma’s newest marketing tactic: infiltrating soap operas like General Hospital”


Read the article in the Journal of the American Medical Association here:

“Regulating Drug Company Promotion in an Era of Unprecedented Advertisement”