Drug Companies One Step Away From More Regulation

An Ad Age Editorial

Published on .

If drug companies aren't more careful, they're going to come down with a case of regulatory pneumonia and the bad-publicity flu.

We're firm believers that a company selling legal and safe products should be allowed to advertise them. But as is often the case, an ounce of prevention goes a long way.

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In particular, drug marketers would be wise to tread carefully when rushing the next blockbuster not only to market but onto the airwaves.

We understand that research isn't cheap. And a blockbuster such a Viagra or a Lipitor goes a long way in paying for life-saving drugs.

But what's much more expensive than research and marketing is fighting lawsuits on numerous fronts or being silenced across the board by the government.

Just recently, The New York Times ran a story about Pfizer's new ad campaign for Lyrica, a drug meant to treat fibromyalgia. As The Times points out, there are a number of doctors who still question the existence of fibromyalgia. Further, as the Times notes, doctors warn that Lyrica's side effects "are very real."

And then there's Vytorin. It's been on the market since FDA approval in the summer of 2004. Now a study shows that the drug doesn't do much more than previous drugs to lower fatty plaque.

There are plenty of politicians and consumer groups eager to paint pharmaceutical companies as money-hungry opportunists looking to make a buck even if it risks the lives of millions. The Vytorin case gives them ammunition. The results of this "recent" study were known to Merck and Schering-Plough since 2006. Whatever reasons Merck and Schering-Plough are giving for their delay in releasing the results, it won't go unnoticed that in the first nine months of 2007, Vytorin had sales of $1.5 billion.

In a campaign season in which candidates are looking to differentiate themselves, going after drug companies might seem like a winning proposition.

In their quest for blockbusters, some drug companies might give consumers (and voters) just enough reason to believe every bad thing said about the pharmaceutical industry.

We know that research doesn't pay for itself and that drug marketers need to make money, but those thinking of making the hard sell for new drugs should consider the physician's motto: "First, do no harm."
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