PharmExec Blog

Pfizer CEO: DTC a 'Fundamental Right'

Direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising is a “fundamental right in the U.S.,” and denying the right of industry to speak directly to patients through drug advertising “leads to ignorance and the inability to judge,” said Ian Read, Ian ReadPfizer’s president and CEO, at the Cleveland Clinic on Tuesday.

Asked whether DTC ads on television should be retired, Read answered unequivocally – “No” – and noted the difficulty of educating patients when “so many warnings are required that [a drug ad] scares more people than it helps.”

Robert Bazell, NBC’s chief science and health correspondent – and Read’s interlocutor during a lunch session at the Cleveland Clinic’s annual Medical Innovation Summit – picked up on Read’s comments about excessive warnings on televised drug ads, noting Pfizer’s 2007 Celebrex ad that lasted over two minutes, almost all of which was spent on the recitation of warnings (Celebrex, along with its fellow NSAIDs, picked up a black box warning in 2005).

Responding to the question of why Pfizer decided to go ahead with Celebrex DTC ads, post black box warning, Read said “the trials that gave rise to [black box] labeling in Celebrex, the data, if one patient had gone the other way, there would have been a different statistical result.”

Asked by Bazell about the issue of trust: “What is your perception of the public’s perception of Pfizer and the rest of the industry?” Read said Big Pharma’s reputation could use some improvement. “We’re above Congress and tobacco, and slightly below physicians and hospitals…there is blame on [industry’s] part for that.” Read said increasing transparency in clinical trials and other areas could ameliorate industry’s reputation. “We don’t sell a pill, we sell data. If you believe the data, there must be transparency,” he said.

Read emphasized the importance of incremental innovation to society, the need to protect industry’s intellectual property, and called for an explicit risk/benefit profile for drug development. He called the U.S. tax rate “uncompetitive,” citing tax rates in Europe “as low as 15%.” Industry “can’t work with one hand tied behind our back,” said Read. “Elites have lost faith in innovation as a social benefit…it’s a cost only conversation.”

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  1. Posted October 6, 2011 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    Getting more rights and less duties. I assume it’s that where CEO’s from Pharma are paid to work for isn’t?.

    Do they really think that common people are all stupid? The day they are really there in the benefit of the patient instead of the bank accounts…that day pigs will fly.

  2. Vince
    Posted October 6, 2011 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    If DTC scares more people than it helps, why then is so much spent on this type of advertising? Every Brand Manager knows exactly what impact each DTC ad has on prescriptions of that product and that is the only reason it persists to this day. The impact to the industry’s image has been mostly negative and they should move away from this practice, at least with brand-specific ads. Increasing awareness of under-diagnosed and under-treated diseases should be the entire scope of DTC and nothing more. The industry brings tremendous value to patients but they have never been able to communicate that successfully, and for many years over the past 3 decades they didn’t even try.

  3. Arguendo
    Posted October 6, 2011 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    Concern for the patient and concern for “bank accounts” are not mutually exclusive — although they can be, in varying occasions, antagonistic. If your concern is public health, then your evaluation of DTC should be based on whether or not it improves public health — not so much whether or not it makes a CEO (or his stakeholders) more wealthy. If your concern is punitive (or you have some abstract financial equity concerns), then you might be a bit more concerns about how much these activities benefit the CEO/stakeholders (relative to others).

    More critically, the claim that Pfizer thinks “that the common people are all stupid” is actually the exact opposite problem that it has with DTCs. The general failure in DTC advertising is assuming that consumers are more intelligent than they are and that they can interpret advertising claims appropriately. Whether DTC advertising should be allowed is a complex topic, although most may be willing to concede that their current format is ineffective at communicating information. Neither the ‘persuasive’ part of the ad — crafted at the manufacturer’s discretion — provides a clear view of the products benefits; nor does the ‘mandated’ part of the ad regarding side effects provides a clear view of the products risks. Arguably, we could relegate the role of DTC advertising to generate awareness, and defer the understanding part until the physician’s visit; however, that is an extended discussion in itself.

  4. Getty P
    Posted October 6, 2011 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

    If only licensed physicians can prescribe – why should DTC be allowed ? Consumers of prescription drugs are not allowed by law to buy drugs themselves so why should DTC be legal ?

  5. john B
    Posted October 7, 2011 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    DTC leads to sales, and is more cost effective than direct sales forces. That is the reason companies like Pfizer et., al., continue to push for the right. All these DTC ads do is remove the obligation of the manufacturer from having to educate the physician on side effects, etc. If a patient goes into an MDs office and requests a product, the vast majority of docs will prescribe it to keep the patients happy, and reduce time. Over the past 15 years, physicians have limited the amount of time and number of sales reps they will see. This is a major issue to big pharma/bio, so to get around it, they use DTC. I believe these adds dumb-down the entire drug development process, minimize potential risks to patients, and try and “market” a drug that requires much more than a 30 second commercial to a patient suffering from a serious condition. I think they should not be allowed, and that the pharma/bio industry must take more responsibility for educating the public, as well as the medical community.

  6. Posted October 8, 2011 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    why are you interested in DTC as your products must prescribe by doctors?

  7. Posted October 10, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    To stop DTC bad ads contact: Deborah A. Wolf, JD, Regulatory Counsel, Office of Compliance FDA/CDRH DTC direct-to-consumer advertising for implanted medical devices such as hips and knees is driving sales and unrealistic expectations by younger/”boomer” consumers while joint replacement is the #1 expenditure of Medicare. In the September/October 2011 issue of AARP magazine, page 11, Johnson & Johnson touts a hip replacement by picturing a young-ish, attractive bicyclist (philanthropist) climbing a hill. IMPORTANT UNSTATED CAVEAT: (The demographic for most hips is a woman in her seventies. Joint replacements are expected to function only for approximately 15 years. If a patient experiences device failure the doctor is not legally required to report the failure and there is no device warranty. FDA MedWatch does not provide a registry of post-market data nor does it systematically follow up on adverse events. The medical device industry gained pre-emption (entitlement) from state court in Supreme Court decision 2/2008 Riegel v. Medtronic placing patients in medical and legal purgatory. When devices are cleared for the U.S. market the FDA uses 510(k) process that does not require any clinical testing nor a vote by an advisory committee. Patient and Consumer Representatives on the advisory committee are not full stakeholders and are not allowed to vote.) Sick and wrong! Public health and healthcare funding suffer for private greed.

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