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Campaign aims to curb pharma marketing

A new campaign has been launched to counteract the effects of pharmaceutical companies' physician-oriented marketing efforts

A new campaign has been launched to counteract the effects of pharmaceutical companies' physician-oriented marketing efforts. Called The Prescription Project, the program will advocate for changes at academic medical centers, professional medical societies and public and private payer organizations based on a number of recommendations made early last year in an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The program is an initiative of the Boston-based nonprofit healthcare advocacy group Community Catalyst, which made headlines a little over a year ago when it sued Pfizer over its marketing claims for Lipitor. The Prescription Project is being conducted in partnership with the Institute on Medicine as a Profession (IMAP) and is funded by a USD 6 million, two-year grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Although the group ìexpects to be having a dialogue with the industry,î the project will focus on addressing the recipients of the marketing and getting them to change their policies rather than on pharma companies themselves, Robert Restuccia, The Prescription Project's executive director, told CommuniquÈ in an interview. He also noted that the project will not address direct-to-consumer marketing.

The numerous recommendations made in the JAMA article included that academic medical centers prohibit their doctors from receiving any drug samples, gifts, meals, trips, travel-expense reimbursements, or payments from pharma companies and that drug firms be barred from providing financial support directly to programs that offer continuing medical education. The article also advised that members of academic medical centers should not be allowed to serve as paid spokespeople for pharma firms. The recommendations were made by a joint committee of the American Board of Internal Medicine and IMAP.

Restuccia noted that the project will also address some issues outside of the scope of the JAMA recommendations. "We are looking at policies related to things like data-mining and educating the public as to what some of the public and private payers have been doing to promote evidence-based medicine," he told Communique.

The Prescription Project will also conduct research related to how healthcare institutions respond to pharmaceutical marketing. "We want to better understandÖwhat are the barriers to keeping organizations from practicing evidence-based medicine, and what are the internal dynamics,î Restuccia said.  ìWe're going to be doing some research on understanding what works and what doesn't."

Restuccia was previously executive director for Health Care For All in Massachusetts, one of the largest state consumer healthcare groups in the country. He became executive director of Community Catalyst in 2000 and is an adjunct professor at the Boston University School of Public Health.

The Prescription Project's other key staff members include Associate Director David J Rothman, who is president of IMAP and also serves as the Bernard Schoenberg Professor of Social Medicine at Columbia College of Physicians & Surgeons, and Director of Research Susan Chimonas, who is the lead author of a series of publications on purported conflicts of interest created by pharma marketing practices. Both are scheduled to speak at the 2007 National Physicians' Alliance on March 10 in Washington, DC.

In addition, the group has assembled a prestigious advisory committee whose members include Cathy DeAngelis, the editor-in-chief of JAMA; Steven Nissen, the president of the American College of Cardiology; and Philip A Pizzo, the dean of the Stanford School of Medicine.

In response to the news of the new program, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) senior vice-president Ken Johnson issued a statement stressing that the trade group believes doctors should get their information ìfrom a wide range of sourcesî that includes pharma companies' sales representatives as well as medical journals and continuing medical education courses.

"The Food and Drug Administration provides the regulatory teeth to make sure information provided by sales representatives is accurate and well-balanced,î he pointed out. He also noted that PhRMA's own voluntary marketing guidelines forbid lavish meals and expensive gifts to doctors.

Restuccia said that he believes PhRMA's guidelines are a step in the right direction but do not go far enough.

14th February 2007

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