Drug Companies Agree to Tighter Rules

Ad Campaigns for New Medications Won't Target Consumers for Six Months

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- Under pressure from Washington, top drug makers including Merck, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer are agreeing a six-month moratorium on advertising new drugs to consumers and will limit how doctors are used in their ads.

The changes were unveiled today in letters drug marketers sent the House Energy and Commerce Committee responding to a request from committee Chairman John Dingell, D-Mich., and Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., who head the committee's oversight and investigations panel.

Tough demands
Mr. Dingell and Mr. Stupak had wanted the companies to impose a two-year voluntary moratorium on advertising of new prescription drugs to consumers -- and possibly even longer in the case of drugs for which not all studies have been completed. The lawmakers also asked the drug companies to limit the use of doctors in their advertising and agree to "black box" warnings on ads if the Food and Drug Administration requested them.

In the letters, executives of Johnson & Johnson, Merck & Co., Merck/Schering-Plough and Pfizer agreed to take several steps, while the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America agreed to hold further meetings with the committee.

The companies will start following the American Medical Association's guidelines about using actors to portray doctors, and at least one marketer, J&J, said it will not use doctors in ads to discuss the benefits of a drug.

The drug companies said in their letters that the six-month moratorium formalized industry practice, which is to educate doctors before moving to consumer communications. "We have adopted internal guiding practices on direct-to-consumer advertising for prescription drugs [that] requires that our operating companies spend at least six months after approval of a new medicine educating health professionals before commencing a direct-to-consumer advertising campaign," wrote William C. Weldon, chairman-CEO of Johnson & Johnson.

He added that the company "does not believe a particular fixed period of time for an advertising moratorium is appropriate in all circumstances."

Mr. Dingell and Mr. Stupak said they were pleased with the response, but wanted the drug companies to go further, with a two-year limit.

"Although we appreciate the drug companies' willingness to change some of their business practices, they have not agreed to all of our requests, which would protect consumers from misleading and deceptive advertising," said Mr. Stupak.

"We accept PhRMA's offer to discuss these issues seriously. We hope the discussions with PhRMA will result in an industry position that addresses the concerns that Pfizer, Merck, Schering-Plough and Johnson & Johnson continue to ignore."
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