Merck’s new “Patients Come First” TV ad starts off with this question: “If you ran a pharmaceutical company, what would you change?” I thought I’d take them up on that challenge — and encourage readers of this blog to do the same via comments to this post — by answering that question in the form of New Year’s Resolutions.
#1. Be More Transparent
Pharma and its representatives should pledge to be more transparent in 2006. By this I mean stop hiding information that you have promised to reveal and stop covering up and spinning information when you are caught red-handed.
This is a philosophy that pharma should apply across the board from the listing of clinical trials it sponsors, to reporting of clinical trial data in peer-reviewed literature, to the disclosure of side effects in direct-to-consumer advertising, to the detailing of drugs to physicians, to the financial support of lawmakers in Washington, DC.
In 2005, the industry has was the focus of numerous stories in the press about hiding information. Here are a just a couple of recent examples:
“Medical Journal: Drug Studies Hide Key Data” – Several major pharmaceutical companies are withholding important details about clinical drug trials, despite urging from federal regulators and medical-journal editors to be more forthcoming. A spokesman for Lilly said, “We’ve met all the reporting requirements for the [Congressionally-mandated] registry.” [WSJ; subscription required]
“Merck’s Hand in the Cookie Jar” – Merck gets caught excising data from a Vioxx study manuscript just days before it was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Merck claims: “The VIGOR publication, which was peer-reviewed, fairly and accurately described the results of the study as of the pre-specified cutoff for analysis.” Technically correct, but morally bankrupt, this defense certainly does not abide by Merck’s claim to “put patients first.” Practically no one I know stood up and defended Merck on this one.
#2: Cut Down on the Bullshit in Drug Promotion!
Instead of complaining about First Amendment rights to free speech, Pharma should pledge in 2006 to cut down on the bullshit in its promotion of drugs to physicians. (It may be too much to ask the same for DTC.) For some background on this issue, see “Is Pharmaceutical Marketing BS?”
Again, Merck has led the way in 2005 in this category as evidenced by its “Dodge Ball” plan to sidestep physicians questions about the cardiovascular effects of Vioxx (see “Get a Load of Those Gams!” where you will find all the juicy Merck documentation of the practice).
There are lots of other areas, especially in the public relations arena, where BS reigns supreme. In 2006 Pharma should find a new customer/employee-centric voice rather than a corporate-centric voice to promote the benefits of the industry and its products. For more ideas on how to do this, see “Blogs and the Pharmaceutical Industry” (Pharma Marketing News; subscription required).
#3: Sign Up and Abide by the Spirit as Well as the Letter of Emerging DTC Principles
I don’t know if every pharmaceutical company has officially endorsed PhRMA’s “Guiding Principles on Direct-to-Consumer Advertising” (see “PhRMA Finalizes DTC Principles“) but if they have not, they definitely should. More important, pharma companies in 2006 should pledge to actually abide by the spirit of the principles and not just the letter.
I commend Pfizer for not only going above and beyond PhRMA’s principles but also immediately living up to its own pledge (see “Pfizer DTC Pledge: ED is Litmus Test“). For example, Pfizer pledged to spend more money on non-branded advertising and now we are seeing these ads aired on prime-time TV.
#4: Keep Out of Court
Goes without saying!
I could go on, but these are the resolutions that I feel are important regarding pharmaceutical marketing and public relations. If you have any others, please feel free to post a comment to this blog.