Drug industry wants better image with doctors, patients

The new PhRMA leader pledges more responsible direct-to-consumer advertising.

By David Glendinning — Posted May 23, 2005

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Washington -- Billy Tauzin admits that he has his work cut out for him when it comes to redeeming the brand-name pharmaceutical industry's image among physicians and consumers.

"What we're attempting to do is not only lead our association to do some things that I think are critically important to restore our respect and integrity ... but you'll also see us working to lead the industry to make changes in terms of the way it does its business in this country and around the world," said Tauzin, who has been heading the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America since the beginning of the year.

The former Republican lawmaker from Louisiana, who served for more than two decades in Congress, acknowledged the level of pressure that the drug lobby faces. Critics assert that the firms charge exorbitant prices that generate billion-dollar profits while shielding potentially negative drug safety and efficacy information.

Tauzin discussed his plans for changing this perception during his first sit-down with reporters since becoming CEO at PhRMA. Strengthening relations with doctors will require drug firms to be more open in providing useful clinical data to physicians, not just marketing information designed to sell products, he said.

"Physicians tell us they want to spend more time with their patients, not filling out forms and constantly meeting with salesmen," he said. "They want as much information as they can get about our products the fastest ... and the most accurate way we can get it to them."

Tauzin highlighted post-marketing surveillance as a particularly promising way to accomplish this.

Physicians would welcome such a move toward greater transparency and would like to see the industry support more studies of drugs that patients are already using, said American Medical Association Executive Vice President and CEO Michael D. Maves, MD.

"There always is the need for physicians to have accurate sources of information, and the pharmaceutical industry can help," Dr. Maves said. "But physicians will still turn to the medical literature to get a check and a balance."

Many doctors complain that frequent visits by sales representatives and the flood of direct-to-consumer advertising often pit the best medical advice against powerful forces determined to sell a particular product. To address this, Tauzin pledged a change in the way member companies do business, particularly when it comes to advertising.

"You're going to see some changes in some of the ads on television ... as companies recognize a responsibility to make sure the ads are educational and serious, and that they do a good job of reaching the people who actually have a problem," he said.

The AMA repeatedly has affirmed a policy that spells out what types of direct-to-consumer ads are acceptable. Among other requirements, the content must be disease-specific, educate consumers about risks and refer patients to physicians.

Unfortunately, patients often come into doctors' offices demanding a particular drug and armed with ads that don't fit this bill, Dr. Maves said. Convincing patients that certain medications might not be right for them often can be a difficult exercise.

"Physicians feel pressure to satisfy those patients' wishes," he said.

Amid all the competing advice, doctors still realize the great promise that drug innovations hold and are committed to making sure medications are affordable and available, Dr. Maves said. This becomes difficult when consumers are asked to foot much of the bill for research and development, drug marketing and shareholders' profits, he added.

Tauzin said that PhRMA must do more to ensure that patients who are ill receive the drugs they need even when they cannot afford the full cost. Such a goal, he said, involves creating more initiatives like the Partnership for Prescription Assistance, a coalition launched in April aimed at educating patients and doctors about public and private drug assistance programs.

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