Editorial: Bristol-Myers offers right Rx

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The decision by Bristol-Myers Squibb to scrub consumer advertising of new prescription drugs is a welcome, reasoned response to issues surrounding drug marketing and safety. We commend Bristol-Myers for taking a bold leadership step and hope Big Pharma will see the wisdom of this move.

It's unfortunate and unnecessary that drug makers are under attack. These companies develop products to cure diseases and vastly improve and lengthen consumers' lives. That's good. But pharma companies have developed the image of profiteering pill-pushers who play fast and loose with research studies, ad claims and matters of product safety and risk. That's bad.

Bristol-Myers is tackling the marketing issue head on, adopting a moratorium that Advertising Age has recommended for the entire pharma-marketing business. In refraining from advertising new drugs to consumers in the first 12 months after launch, the company said it will focus on "educating" medical professionals. During this launch period, Bristol-Myers still will advertise to consumers through disease "awareness advertising, as appropriate, for diseases that may be potentially treated by our newly launched medications."

In disclosing its "Direct-to-Consumer Communications Code," Bristol-Myers said its goal is "to have the right patient get the right medicine at the right time." The policy supports this worthy goal. That's good for patients and doctors, and that in turn is good for the image of Bristol-Myers.

The company struck the right compromise for launch-phase communications: Doctors will have time to educate themselves, and consumers will see ads about medical conditions intended to prompt a discussion with doctors. May the best cure win.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, which has opposed a moratorium on ads for new drugs, will reveal an industry advertising code next month. The code had better have teeth. The last thing drug makers need is a pro forma, pro-pharma code that satisfies an insular industry-and accomplishes nothing. PhRMA would do well to take its cue from Bristol-Myers, which has set the benchmark for how DTC self-regulation can and should work.

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