About this Author
DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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« Chemical Warfare, Part Five: The Real World | Main | More Fun With Patent Expirations »

September 18, 2002

As Others See Us

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Posted by Derek

The "us" of that title refers to those of us in the drug industry (a reasonable percentage of my readers, but far from a majority.) Many may have noticed that Tuesday's Wall Street Journal had two two articles side-by-side under the "Politics and Policy" heading. They made an interesting (and surely non-accidental) contrast.

One was on the various ways that the pharmaceutical companies want the FDA to ease up on advertising and promotional restrictions (with particular reference to Pfizer.) These include handing out reprints of literature articles that bear on off-label indications, for example, which I can see lands squarely in arguing territory. Companies are always trying to push that boundry, and the FDA pushes back. Fair enough.

But some of the "restrictions" that Pfizer objects to are less arguable. For example, they want to be able to stop printing the generic name of a prescription medication next to its brand name. Come on. Consumers are used to prescription drug ads by now, and they're used to seeing a second name printed right below the brand. This isn't confusing anyone, and I can't see how it affects the advertising campaigns at all.

Of course, what it does do is raise awareness of the compound's generic name, which could be an issue when the patent finally expires. That probably does make it a bit easier for the generic form of the drug to hit the ground running - when, say, people have been seeing "sildenafil citrate" written right next to "Viagra" all these years.

But let's be real. These days, when big-selling drugs go generic, their sales don't just slowly fade out like they used to: they drop off a cliff. HMOs aren't stupid, at least not when it comes to obvious cost-cutting measures. When Claritin goes off-patent, it's not going to matter whether or not the word "loratadine" is on everyone's lips; its sales are going to tank anyway.

Every drug company realizes this. So why is Pfizer (and the other companies that may be cheering them on) making such a request at all? It's not going to help; all it does is make the compan(ies) involved look slick and greedy. This is most definitely not the time to be looking slick and greedy.

Which is the point of the second article, the "Political Capital" column by Alan Murray. He correctly points out that running against Big Pharma looks like a winning political ploy these days. Democratic candidates, especially, are "standing up to the big drug companies," fighting for the little guy and all that, all over the place. However, says Murray, "Almost no politician in America is willing to stand up and utter this simple truth: The nation's pharmaceutical makers have done more to extend and improve the lives of ordinary Americans than any industry in history."

It does cheer me up to read that sort of thing. But, of course, that sentiment and a dollar will buy us a bag of chips. How did the drug industry get to be so unpopular? Murray suggests that much of the problem is internal - pharmaceutical PR has been so heavy-handed that people assume that we must have something to hide. He suggests that the industry lobbying group, PhRMA, give up the front-group ads and campaigns, and reign in the marketing excesses that make it look like we have to buy doctors to prescribe our drugs. He concludes "If the drug industry wants less criticism from the public, it will have to start by giving people less to criticize."

The man has a point.

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