Drugmakers May Adopt Voluntary Restrictions On DTC Advertising

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

The pharmaceutical industry this week is expected to announce voluntary restrictions on direct-to-consumer drug advertising, the Wall Street Journal reports. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association will disclose restrictions that include suggesting drugmakers consider implementing a minimum time period before launching advertising for newly approved drugs. According to the Journal, the new recommendations will update guidelines the trade group adopted in 2005, which were intended to ensure drug ads were accurate and provided balanced information regarding safety and effectiveness.

According to the Journal, the new restrictions come after scrutiny from the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which had said that ads for the cholesterol drugs Vytorin, co-marketed by Merck and Schering-Plough, and Lipitor, manufactured by Pfizer, and a Johnson & Johnson anemia drug were potentially misleading and deceptive.

The Journal reports that some companies responded to the congressional pressure by agreeing to some restrictions, such as a moratorium on ads within the first six months of a drug's launch. The Journal notes that "such concessions are viewed partly as a move to stave off potential new regulations on drug ads." Jon Swallen, senior vice president of research at TNS Media Intelligence, said, "There aren't many industries out there that want government involved in their business in a restrictive manner, not when it comes to the advertising and marketing part of the business."


Ad Spending Declining

The Journal reports that the drugmakers' concessions come amid an overall decline in spending on ads. U.S. pharmaceutical ad spending declined by 6% to $3.2 billion in the first eight months of 2008, following a decline of 3% in 2007 to $5.3 billion, according to TNS.

TNS said much of the decline resulted from less non-branded advertising, such as corporate promotion messages and disease-awareness ads. According to the Journal, other factors have contributed to the continuing change in the industry's advertising spending, such as an increase in the scrutiny of drug ads by Congress and a decline in the amount of new drugs approved in recent years. According to TNS, the decline in FDA approval led to a 7% decrease in ad spending on new brands in 2007. Spending on established brands rose by 5%, TNS reported.

Meanwhile, the recession has resulted in some companies seeking a more targeted advertising approach to reduce costs, according to the Journal. In addition, some companies are seemingly waiting longer after drugs are approved to begin advertising, the Journal reports (Loftus, Wall Street Journal, 12/10).

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