PhRMA is itching to challenge FDA’s authority to regulate DTC advertising in front of the Supreme Court, arguing that recent “Draft FDA Guidance on PreDissemination Review of TV Direct-to-Consumer Ads” (find it here) violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment because pharmaceutical marketing is a form of free speech (see “PhRMA Demands that FDA ‘Cabin’ Its Discretion to Regulate DTC Ads“).
Sanofi, on the other hand, in a comment submitted to FDA (see here) argues that “the process presented in the draft guidance would potentially require the sponsor [ie, Sanofi and other pharma companies] to cease the use of TV ads as a vehicle to educate consumers due to significant production challenges as a result of the draft proposed process.”
The “process” that Sanofi is talking about is the requirement to submit a “final recorded version [of the ad] in its entirety.” Sanofi is concerned that if the ad needs to be changed — reshot and re-edited — as a result of FDA pre-review, it be too costly and “resource intensive” for the sponsor.
Not all ads, however, will require FDA review before airing (see “Focus on Drug Safety Communication & TV DTC Advertising” for details) and it is not clear how much it would actually cost to redo the production to comply with FDA comments. Sanofi should have included some specific estimates of these costs and “resources” to bolster its case.
Sanofi offered a compromise. Instead of submitting a “final recorded version” of the TV ad “in its entirety,” Sanofi suggests that sponsors submit an “annotated storyboard or animatic [animated?] version of the advertisement.”
FDA already reviews storyboards submitted prior to ads being run. In at least one case, however, a violative ad was aired months after FDA had a storyboard in its possession. Only after the ad had run its course did the FDA issue a notice of violation (see “FDA and YAZ: Is FDA Helping Marketers Work Around Regulations?“).
Sanofi also submitted a comment regarding FDA’s requirement for “verification that a spokesperson who is represented as a real patient [in a TV ad] is indeed an actual patient.” Sanofi asked that FDA clarify what type of verification would be needed. Would a “signed testimonial from an actual patient” be enough?
Snaofi may be planning to use more real patients in its TV ads as have other pharma companies (eg, Pfizer use of real patients in Chantix TV ads). I’ve documented one instance where Sanofi has used a real patient in a video ad on YouTube (see “Method Acting for Real Patients Who Play Themselves on Pharma YouTube Channels“) but do not recall any TV ads for Sanofi products that used real patients.
Regardless of what verification FDA requires for TV ads, the guidelines only apply to TV ads and NOT to ads that run on YouTube. Hence, although these new guidelines may “kill” TV drug ads, they may be a boon for YouTube ads such as the Sanofi YouTube video mentioned above.