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European Big Pharma turn to TV and radio to boost sales

Big Pharma is examining the possibility of launching a TV station to promote its products directly to patients in a move to boost flagging sales in the EU region

Big Pharma is examining the possibility of launching a TV station to promote its products directly to patients in a move to boost flagging sales in the EU region.

In a report by the Guardian newspaper, the move follows the attempts by industry lobbyists across the region to end restrictions banning direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising of branded and generic drugs.

The pharmaceutical industry is considering funding Pharma TV, which would be a digital channel broadcasting detailed information about drug companies' products, as well as health-related news and medical education features.

According to the Guardian report, consumers would use their remote controls to click on treatment options and read what manufacturers have to say about the latest branded drugs.

In the US, DTC advertising is commonplace, although it operates under certain rules imposed on it by the Federal government. Sales of products in the region rose dramatically after companies there were allowed to advertise their products across a variety of media. Demand for branded ethicals also increased after advertisements extolled their benefits over generic equivalents, as patients asked for these drugs directly from their doctors.

The challenge to the established DTC ban in the EU was last attempted in 2002, when companies lobbied the European parliament to permit pharmaceutical companies to operate "disease awareness campaigns". The push by the pharmaceutical industry and patient groups seems to have succeeded in making the EU Commission re-evaluate its stance on DTC advertising.

The Guardian report seizes on the fact that the trade section of the EU Commission, rather than the health section, is involved in the discussions. This has led to critics complaining of a lack of transparency and that the membership of the working group on information to patients has not been made public.

Only two patient groups have been included in the talks and one of them receives funding from the pharmaceutical industry itself. Critics of the EU Commission re-evalution are the Medicines in Europe Forum, which was launched in 2002 and consists of the consumer groups, the International Society of Drug Bulletins and European Health insurers. Both groups have contacted the commission to express their dissatisfaction.

The groups said in a letter to the commission that the pharmaceutical forum had operated with an almost total lack of transparency and warned that it was not in drug companies' interests to provide full and unbiased information to patients. They cited the example of Merck & Co's pain killer, Vioxx (rofecoxib), which caused a number of deaths from heart attack.

23rd May 2007

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