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Pfizer to transform DTC

Pfizer makes key changes to its DTC activities to focus on communicating effectively the risk/benefit information

Pfizer is making fundamental changes to its direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising campaigns in an attempt to address growing controversy surrounding the promotion of prescription drugs to consumers in the US.

The firm said that changes in three major areas are aimed at improving consumer understanding of the benefits and risks of a treatment, encouraging more dialogue between patients and doctors, and motivating people to overcome potential barriers to better health.

One change is a new consumer-friendly risk/benefit summary for its products, which Pfizer has submitted to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). If the regulator approves it, the firm plans to use it in all print advertising and on all product websites.

Also as part of the changes, the company will inform patients in television and print advertising, and on product websites, that their doctor may recommend alternative treatments.

A third decision supporting the firm's new stance is to invest a `meaningful amount' - similar to the figure it spends on a branded ad - in creating more disease awareness campaigns, such as Why Live With Depression? which featured Sopranos star, Lorraine Bracco.

Along with a number of other pharma companies, including Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS), Johnson & Johnson and Wyeth, Pfizer has vowed to ensure that all DTC activities will be consistent with the Guiding Principles voluntary code from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).

The latest move comes just days after the US giant announced that it would wait at least six months before advertising new prescription drugs to consumers and air ads for its impotence treatment Viagra only during programmes with at least 90 per cent adult viewing, putting an end to such campaigns appearing in breaks in the Super Bowl.

ìDTC advertising is demonstrably helpful to patients, but it should be refined to be even more helpful,î said Karen Katen, vice chairman and president of human health at Pfizer.

ìWe're announcing changes to our DTC advertising to strengthen its educational benefits - and to motivate patients to take earlier action and work with their healthcare providers to take more informed control over their health,î she added.

Not alone

Strong research exists to prove that DTC advertising can be an effective vehicle for communicating important health information to consumers. However, intense criticism and a raft of complaints from patients and doctors claiming that promotion exaggerates the benefits and downplays the risks of prescription drugs, have forced pharma companies to rethink their approach to the practice.

BMS has developed its own promotional code of conduct, the Direct-to-Consumer Communications Code, which has been posted on its homepage and is consistent with PhRMA's Guiding Principles.

As well as promising to include information about patient assistant programmes in its advertising and developing disease state awareness advertising, BMS says for at least 12 months after the launch of a new drug it will not advertise direct to consumers either on television, radio or in print. Instead, it said, during that time it will invest in educating healthcare professionals about the new drug.

Wyeth has also given its backing to the PhRMA guidelines, which president, Bernard Poussot believes 'provide a responsible framework for advertising communication'.

2nd September 2008

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