Pharma code likely to ignore Frist

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Senate majority leader Bill Frist's surprise call for a two-year ad moratorium for newly approved prescription drugs greatly heightens pressure on the pharmaceutical industry to alter direct-to-consumer advertising practices. But the industry's imminent new DTC ad code has no plans to include Sen. Frist's recommendation.

The new self-regulatory ad code "is unlikely to include a moratorium on new advertising," said Ken Johnson, exec VP of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association of America. "While we believe that there should be a period of time to educate physicians and others before advertising of new products begins, we also believe that patients have a right to know about new drugs."

What the code is likely to include is a requirement that companies provide clearer information about drug risks. Nearly $4 billion is spent annually on DTC ads.

The Tennessee senator, a physician, suggested the moratorium in a Senate speech on the eve of the Fourth of July weekend to the surprise of ad groups and pharmaceutical companies who got no advance warning and whose officials in several cases were already headed off on holiday trips.

STRONG WORDS

"These ads cause people to take more prescription drugs. I believe it has reached a point where they ... are needlessly and wastefully driving up health care costs," Mr. Frist said. He warned that unless pharmaceutical companies were more responsible in balancing a drug's benefits with information on risks, he would support legislation to curb DTC ads. Mr. Frist also demanded all DTC ads be pre-submitted for review by the Food and Drug Administration and called for the agency to be given more resources to conduct reviews.

"We said in January that the DTC situation was Code Red. It just got several shades more vivid," said Dick O'Brien, exec VP, American Association of Advertising Agencies. "The fact is that he has now added decibels to the urgency of it."

Dan Jaffe, exec VP, Association of National Advertisers, said Mr. Frist is one of the prime players in Washington.

"If he wants to see that some legislation is looked at, he has the clout to do that," he said. Although one company, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, has voluntarily imposed a one-year moratorium on DTC ads for its new drugs, ad groups and the pharmaceutical industry say an across-the-board moratorium is illogical.

"If the drug is safe and appropriate, and it will help people get better, we ought to let people know about it," said Jeff Perlman, exec VP, American Advertising Federation.

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