God Bless R&D, but Marketers May Go to Hell! OpEd by John Mack

Hey you friggin’ critics of the pharmaceutical industry! Shut your pie hole! “… drug companies have done a lot more to make my life better than [you] critics have. Maybe someone should point that out more often.”

Aside from the anecdotal nature of this defense, here are five reasons why I hate this “better than the critics” argument made by some “defenders” of the pharmaceutical industry.

Number 1: The Duh! factor. Well, of course, critics-and I count myself in that camp-don’t do much to directly help anyone. I would argue, however, that critics can sometimes make a good thing better. And no one would argue that the pharmaceutical industry could not be improved. After all, only through constant improvement can any public company’s share price rise.

They’re Not All Angels!
Number 2: Even extreme critics-of which I am not one-don’t criticize EVERYTHING about the industry. In fact, if anything, we “critics” are very supportive of the R&D side of the business and lament the fact that the corporate/marketing/sales sides have squandered the good will that has been BUILT by R&D over the years. They’ve done this by paying too much attention to the bottom line rather than to the core promise of the In-dustry so eloquently enunciated by form-er Merck CEO and founder George W. Merck many years ago: “”We try never to forget that medicine is for the people. Not for the profits. The profits follow, and if we have remembered that, they have never failed to appear.”

Number 3: The same people that express love for the industry because it “saved their lives” today, can turn on the industry when they are betrayed. Witness all the people going after Merck because of the Vioxx fiasco. It wasn’t even the facts that caused all the hoopla. What brought Merck to its knees-but not counted out-was how its sales, marketing, and corporate leadership tried to hide certain facts from the public and from physicians. Merck recently regained lost good will with the introduction of Gardasil to the Market, which even “critics” like me praise. I praise it because I can clearly see how this vaccine will save lives (it’s a no-brainer).

Yet, for each step forward that R&D takes, greed (ie, marketing, sales, corporate) takes two steps back. I am talking about Merck’s lobbying efforts to make vaccination MANDATORY (see “Gardasil: To Be Mandatory or Not To Be Mandatory-That is the Question“). This is clearly self-serving (also questionable on the grounds of conflict of interest) because Merck could have waited until competitors entered the market to press for mandates. It also would have been wiser to wait from a patient safety standpoint, something I am sure most of Merck’s research and medical staff would agree with.

It’s Not All About Cancer Drugs
Number 4: Instapundit quotes this comment from a reader to Pfizer: “…we love Pfizer in my house because your exotic anti-arrhythmic drug Tikosyn has changed my wife’s life. It’s genuinely a miracle drug for her.” OK. Pfizer markets some pretty amazing drugs. I haven’t seen DTC ads for this particular drug on TV, yet. But Pfizer also wastes a lot of effort and money promoting lifestyle drugs like Viagra and was recently criticized in the Wall Street Journal for promoting Viagra specifically to enhance sexual performance rather than treat a real medical problem (see WSJ: “New Impotence Ads Draw Fire — Just Like Old Ones”).

Go Ahead, Shoot Yourself in the Foot!
Number 5: The WSJ article illustrates another problem the pharma industry has that deserves criticism: shooting itself in the foot! At a time when Congress is considering legislation to curtail or even prohibit DTC advertising, isn’t it foolish to “push the envelope” in such a publicly visible way?

Again, greed trumps R&D: sales of ED drugs are not living up to Wall Street expectations-set by the industry itself-so ED marketers pull out their big guns-TV DTC advertising, which is increasing sales all right, but getting the issue on the front pages again! Talking about killing the the golden goose for a quick meal rather than keeping it alive and well it for its valuable eggs!

Give Your Heroes a Voice!
Remember the quote that started this rant? Well, here’s how a “guy from Pfizer” responded: “I will pass your thanks along to the guys in the lab. You have no idea how much this kind of message matters to them…”

As if the “guys” in the lab were isolated from public view, locked away in cages like lab rats!

And that’s a problem I have always railed against. Time and again, I point out to any industry executive who will listen: give these people a voice (see, for example, the section “Clarence,” GSK’s R&D Guy, Trumps “Jamie,” Pfizer Viagra Guy! in the post “GSK’s ‘Plain Talk’ Flawed“). Here’s where the industry should use the power of the blogosphere to improve its image.

Issue: Vol. 6, No.2: February 2007
Word Count: n/a

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