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, Pfizer’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.”