Taking “One small step for a pharmaceutical company, one giant leap for the pharmaceutical industry,” Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS) announced on 13 June 2005 that it will refrain from direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising for a minimum of 12 months following the launch of a new drug (see “BRISTOL-MYERS SQUIBB ANNOUNCES NEW DTC POLICY“). It will also limit advertising on TV to “appropriate audiences at appropriate times.”

BMS should be congratulated for implementing this new policy.

Of course, this action comes amid increasing criticism of DTC advertising from a number of sources (see, for example, “The End of DTC as We Know It“, “DTC Laissez-faire: A Bankrupt Policy“, and “Blame the Doc, Not DTC!“).

Upstaging PhRMA?
BMS may also be upstaging its rivals by anticipating voluntary DTC guidelines currently being developed by PhRMA (the industry’s trade association). The New York Times reported on 17 May 2005:

“The chief lobbyist for the pharmaceutical industry said Monday that drug companies were trying to develop a voluntary code of conduct for the advertising of prescription medicines on television and in print. The lobbyist, Billy Tauzin, president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said he hoped the standards would be issued by June or July. One purpose is to fend off more stringent federal regulation. Television commercials for some products, including erectile dysfunction drugs, have been criticized by consumer advocates and politicians and mocked by late-night comedians.” (See “Drug Industry Is Said to Work on an Ad Code“).

I’ve been told by someone close to the industry and PhRMA that this voluntary code would not likely be ready before the end of the year. Perhaps the BMS announcement will goose the process along.

New DTC Principles Emerging
The announcement by BMS and the new approach to DTC advertising taken by J&J (see “DTC Straight Talk“) begin to shed light on principles that the pharma industry will ultimately adopt for DTC advertising. So far, these principles are:

  1. Delay DTC for 1 Year After Launch. Refrain from any direct-to-consumer branded mass media (television, radio and print) advertising to promote a drug for a minimum of 12 months following its launch.
  2. Put Limits on TV DTC. When a drug is advertised on television it will be to appropriate audiences at appropriate times of the day.
  3. Submit to FDA for Prior Review. Proposed DTC advertisements will be submitted to the Food and Drug Administration for advisory comment once a decision is made that advertising for a new medication is appropriate.
  4. Balance Benefit & Risk Information in DTC. DTC ads will put drug risks on more-equal footing with drug benefits.

For more information about BMS’s plan, please see its “Direct-to-Consumer Communications Code.