DTC lobby scrambles to head off FDA guidelines

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The pharmaceutical industry's top lobbying group is racing to come up with a voluntary code of conduct for the $4 billion industry that will beat pending government guidelines to the punch.

"Given everything that has happened in the last several months," said a U.S. marketing chief at a major drugmaker, it's "better to self-regulate than to have someone else tell you how to conduct your business." The Food and Drug Administration introduced draft guidelines almost 15 months ago but has yet to implement them.

Former Louisiana Republican Rep. Billy Tauzin, who took over as president of the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America earlier this year, said last week that the group wants its members to adhere to the advertising guidelines as part of an overall effort to restore faith in the battered industry. Ken Johnson, director-communications for PHRMA, said a "discussion guide" is being shared with the drug companies and a vote on the guidelines could be taken in late summer or early fall.

"We are encouraging our member companies to make their advertising as informational and educational as possible, with a thorough discussion of risk vs. benefit," said Mr. Johnson, who declined to make the discussion guide available.

`PERFECT STORM'

PHRMA has tried several times to implement voluntary guidelines for drug advertising but, for one reason or another, the efforts have met with resistance from some members.

But now, as Ogilvy & Mather Healthcare President Mike Guarini put it, "It's a unique moment in time. Almost the perfect storm," of waning consumer confidence, drug-safety fears in the wake of the Vioxx recall and threatened congressional intervention.

But many remain skeptical. "Even now it's going to be hard to get all of us on the same page," said another drug company marketing chief.

"As long as the goal of these ads is sales, there is simply no way that the industry can be relied upon to self-police," Jeannine Kenney, a senior policy analyst with the non-profit group Consumers Union, told the Boston Globe.

contributing: Ira Teinowitz

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