Tom Abrams, director of FDA’s Division (soon to be Office) of Drug Marketing, Advertising & Communications (DDMAC), said that publishing social media guidelines for industry is the division’s “highest priority,” and that the document will be “published as soon as it’s vetted.”
Abram’s comments, made during a panel this morning at the Drug Information Association’s (DIA) annual meeting in Chicago, prompted audience members to probe Abrams, and his CBER colleague Lisa Stockbridge, branch chief of the Advertising and Promotional Labeling Branch, about specific policies governing online promotion. One audience member wondered whether unbranded, educational campaigns online could link to branded sites, or if that kind of activity would generate an enforcement letter. Abrams responded that his own question, in that instance, would be, “Why are you linking to a brand site?” if a campaign is designed specifically to educate about a disease, as opposed to a branded campaign designed to sell a product. When pressed, he said an educational or awareness campaign – which isn’t required to present risk information, since no drug is being promoted – linking to a brand site would “have to be considered on a case by case basis.” Industry has been browbeating DDMAC about issuing social media guidelines for years.
On FDA’s Bad Ad program, one audience member asked what sort of proof would be required to verify improper promotion by a sales rep, given that a discussion between a rep and a physician would likely be verbal and unrecorded. Abrams said that an extensive review of the complaint would happen before moving forward, and then a signed affidavit from the physician, testifying to what was said during a sales meeting, would most likely be required. John Kamp, executive director at the Coalition for Healthcare Communications, and moderator of the panel, wondered aloud about whether a sales rep making hundreds of calls a week would be able to recall exactly what was said during a specific detail. “Couldn’t a sales rep say, ‘I don’t remember what I said, but my training and common response in this situation would be X.’ Would that kind of [defense] fly?” asked Kamp. Abrams didn’t answer the question directly, but insisted that DDMAC was diligent in investigating complaints, and the circumstances surrounding a potentially illicit conversation.
Abrams also discussed a proposed update to Section 502(n) of the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) dealing with “clear, conspicuous, and neutral” major statements, or legally-mandated statements on major risks associated with a given drug. The update was announced in March of last year, and deals with DTC advertising, specifically television and radio, said Abrams. One of the four proposals put forward by DDMAC would require that an “advertisement does not include distracting representations (including statements, text, images, or sounds or any combination thereof) that detract from the communication of a major statement.” Anyone who has seen a drug ad on television will recognize the target of this proposal; the last seconds of a DTC ad are typically used for a voiceover announcing a drug’s “major” risks, while simultaneously providing unrelated images associated with the actors or visual narrative of the commercial.
DDMAC is in the process of being elevated from a division to an office, a process that is “slow even by government standards,” joked Abrams. The new office will be separated into two divisions, healthcare professional and consumer, he said.