Reuters reports that AstraZeneca (AZ) is “urging U.S. lawmakers to revive a program for drugmakers who want to voluntarily submit their television commercials for regulatory review” (see “AstraZeneca pushes for reviews of TV drug ads“).

AZ suggested that funding for this program should come pharma companies or, since there has been lawmaker opposition to this (see “FDA Won’t be Previewing TV DTC Ads!“), from taxpayers like you and me.

Why is AZ so keen on this idea?

Some have suggested that it is merely a PR ploy, which had its genesis way back in November, 2005 when I first reported on AZ’s proposal. Back then I noted that AstraZeneca stunned attendees at an FDA public hearing on DTC with an announcement proposing “a mandatory requirement for pharmaceutical companies to submit all direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Division of Drug Marketing and Communication (DDMAC) for review prior to its use” (See “AstraZeneca’s Risky Proposition“).

At that time, a Pharma Marketing Roundtable member commented: “Knowing that the FDA is woefully understaffed for this type of effort, it’s a ‘can’t lose’ offer on Astra Zeneca’s part! However, it’’ll play well in the popular press so my sense is that it was a smart move on their part.”

But writing letters to lawmakers is not so visible to the public as to be an effective PR ploy. There must be another reason why AZ is so keen on this idea.

I think that AZ and other drug companies want the FDA to pre-approve TV ads because there are several advantages that the industry will gain, including the “loophole” that pre-approved ads can very rarely be recalled after the fact. That will drastically cut the number of warning letters the FDA issues to drug makers. Although these letters are mere slaps on the wrist and are ineffective — ie, akin to closing the barn door after the cow has left — they are bad publicity.

IMHO, AZ’s call for FDA preview of DTC is designed more to prevent BAD publicity, than to create GOOD publicity.

Also, if the money comes from the industry rather than the public, the industry will have even more control over the FDA than it currently has (see “Pay-(FDA)-Per-(Pre)View of DTC“). On the other hand, if FDA gets taxpayer money for this, the drug industry can save some money and still reap the benefits.

BTW, don’t expect FDA pre-view of TV DTC ads to actually IMPROVE these ads. Many of them will still be silly, creative fluff like the Lincoln-Beaver Rozerem ads that have won so many awards (see “Rozerem Ads Dis Lincoln, Show Beaver“).

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