Filed under: Advertising & Lobbying, Drugs & Medical Devices, Pharma
In Case you missed it: Research Fellow & Lecturer in Law, Seton Hall Law’s Center for Health & Pharmaceutical Law & Policy, Kate Greenwood, on American Law Journal TV regarding Pharmaceutical Off-Label Marketing and Free Speech. A regular blogger here at HRW, Kate Greenwood appeared along with attorneys Hope Freiwald of Dechert, LLP and Brian J. McCormick, Jr., of Sheller, P.C.
As predicted, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Sorrell v. IMS Health pharmaceutical companies have raised First Amendment challenges to the ban on off-label promotion on a number of fronts. Most recently, Par Pharmaceutical sued to invalidate the ban to the extent that it “criminalize[s] Par’s truthful and non-misleading speech to healthcare professionals concerning the FDA-approved use of its FDA-approved prescription drug.” How is it that the ban on off-label promotion could be interpreted to bar the on-label promotion in which Par wishes to engage? At the heart of Par’s dispute with the government are the “call plans” that pharmaceutical companies develop using the prescriber-specific prescription data at issue in Sorrell.
Call plans set forth which physicians pharmaceutical sales representatives should visit and how often. In an article in the current issue of Next Generation Pharmaceutical magazine, Matthew Linkewich and Jay Margolis of IMS Health explain that a “properly conceived and configured … call plan directs reps to those physicians whose practice characteristics, constellation of prescribing behaviors and attitudes are conducive to supporting the brand goals.” Because call plans embody “brand goals,” the government has focused on them as evidencing companies’ intent to engage in off-label promotion.
For example, in a December 15, 2010 press release announcing a $214.5 million settlement with Elan Corporation, the Department of Justice highlighted the fact that Elan’s “off-label marketing efforts” for its anti-epilepsy drug Zonegran “targeted non-epilepsy prescribers.” A January 28, 2011 press release announcing the formal sentencing of Novartis in a case involving off-label promotion of its anti-epilepsy drug, Trileptal, similarly noted that the company “decided to market and promote Trileptal as a treatment for [two off-label indications, bipolar disease and neuropathic disease] and directed its sales force to visit doctors who would not normally prescribe Trileptal due to the nature of their practice.” Novartis’ plea agreement explains that while epilepsy is treated by epileptologists and neurologists, the company’s call plan included psychiatrists and pain doctors.
The corporate integrity agreement that Novartis entered into as part of the settlement of the Trileptal-related claims against it provides for independent review of “the bases upon which [health care providers] and [health care institutions] belonging to specified medical specialties are included in, or excluded from, the Call Plans based on, among other factors, expected utilization of Government Reimbursed Products for FDA-approved uses or non-FDA-approved uses[.]“ The corporate integrity agreement requires a similar review of the company’s sampling strategy and goes so far as to bar the company from delivering samples to health care providers identified by the company as “belong[ing] to a specialty group that is unlikely to prescribe” the sampled product on-label.
Currently, Par Pharmaceutical’s call plan for its appetite stimulant Megace, which is FDA-approved for the treatment of AIDS-related wasting, does not include oncology practices or long-term care facilities. With the help of an outside consultant, Par determined that physicians in those settings “reasonably may encounter patients suffering from AIDS-related wasting, and thus may have occasion to prescribe [Megace] for its on-label use,” but all agree that they would be much more likely to prescribe the drug off-label to treat wasting in cancer and geriatric patients. In the concluding paragraphs of Par’s complaint, it explains that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey, which is investigating the company’s marketing practices, has informed the company that before it promotes a drug for its on-label use to doctors who prescribe the drug off-label it must “confirm that there are presently a sufficient number of patients being treated for whom the drug could be prescribed on-label.”
As Par points out, the government has offered no guidance regarding the number of on-label patients that a doctor must treat before he or she can be included in a company’s call plan. On the one hand, this is to be expected because the call plan is only one factor that the government considers in determining a company’s intent. On the other hand, it leaves companies like Par without a clear course to follow and, after Sorrell, likely to sue.
Filed under: Advertising & Lobbying, Pharma, Prescription Drugs
Last spring, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) launched the Truthful Prescription Drug Advertising and Promotion Program (known more accessibly as the “Bad Ad Program“). The goal of the program is to enlist the help of health care professionals, consumers, and industry representatives in noting FDA violations and reporting activities and messages that are false or misleading. Common drug marketing violations include omitting or downplaying risk, overstating effectiveness, promoting off-label uses and making misleading drug comparisons. The program is run by the FDA’s Division of Drug Marketing, Advertising, and Communications (DDMAC), which is responsible for “ensuring truthful advertising and promotion of prescription drugs.”
The FDA published a year-end report in May noting that the program has been successful in raising awareness. DDMAC received 328 reports of potentially untruthful or misleading promotions in one year, with the majority of those submitted by health care professionals (188 reports) and consumers (116 reports). The report notes that prior to the Bad Ad program, the FDA received an average of about 104 reports per year.
And the Bad Ad tips are still coming in. Just at the end of last month, DDMAC issued a reprimand letter to Pfizer’s Vice President of US Regulatory Affairs regarding misleading advertising of drugs on the company’s Lipitor website. A complaint to the Bad Ad program observed that the links from the Lipitor site led to pages for the drugs Caduet (for high cholesterol and blood pressure), Norvasc (for high blood pressure), and Chantix (for smoking cessation). But each of those pages failed to note any of the risk information associated with the drugs, which is a violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.
The FDA states that “by omitting the most serious and frequently occurring risks associated with Caduet, Chantix, and Norvasc, the webpage misleadingly suggests that these drugs are safer than have been demonstrated.” The letter ends with a request that Pfizer immediately stop the dissemination of violative promotional materials for the drugs. The company was to have submitted a written response to the complaint by September 14th that states how they will comply with the request.
While the Bad Ad program may be working to raise awareness among health professionals and consumers, one violation may not be enough to induce compliance from pharmaceutical companies. In fact, DDMAC already chided Pfizer in March of 2009 for omitting risk information for Caduet and Chantix. In that case, Pfizer sponsored links for the drugs on Internet search engines. The sites linked to did not mention any risk information and therefore, presumably, can be said to have also represented the products in a manner which, as above, suggests that these drugs are safer than have been demonstrated.” The most recent letter states that “DDMAC is concerned that Pfizer is continuing to promote its products in a similarly violative manner.” A citizen’s task force is a good way for the FDA to multiply their eyes and ears to keep tabs on misleading and/or violative advertisement. We’ll see what further successes the next year-end report for the Bad Ad program can show. Or, perhaps, success might also be measured in the absence of violations.
[Ed Note: We are pleased to welcome a guest article from Christopher J. Asakiewicz, J.D. He graduated from Seton Hall Law in 2011 with a concentration in Health Law, recently passed the New York Bar Exam (congratulations!) and works for ImClone Systems Corporation, an affiliate of Eli Lilly and Company, drafting and negotiating various clinical documents and patient disclosures with both US and ex-US institutions as well as central and local investigational review boards (IRBs). During law school he worked at Saint Vincents Catholic Medical Centers of New York (SVCMC) in the department of legal affairs, and prior to pursuing a legal education, managed phase IIIB/IV international clinical trials for Pfizer Inc. in the areas of neurology and neurodegenerative diseases.]
Personal data privacy once again has taken front stage in Sorrel v. IMS Health, Inc. Vermont passed the Vermont Confidentiality of Prescription Information Law that allows doctors which prescribe drugs to patients, to decide whether pharmacies can sell their prescription drug prescription records. IMS Health as well as other health information companies contested the law, arguing that the law poses a restriction on commercial speech as access to such information helps pharmaceutical companies market their drugs effectively to doctors. The Supreme Court is now tasked with determining the constitutionality of the restriction on access to prescription information with regards to our First Amendment. 
However, this post is focused on the secondary effects asserted in amici curiae briefs supporting the petitioners of allowing companies to purchase such information, specifically the concern of data privacy and patient re-identification.  Under the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), personal health information is de-identified by your local pharmacy prior to such information being shared with any third party. By de-identifying the data, your personal data cannot, it is believed, be linked or traced back to you. De-identifying your health information is a way for covered entities to share your information without your consent or authorization and in accordance with the law. The information once shared is completely anonymized. After the transfer to a third party, like IMS Health, your information is solely data of zeros and ones that translate to dates of dispensing and drug names. No longer does your prescription record list your name or month or day of birth. 
Briefs in the case assert that data mining firms could, hypothetically, create profiles based on these de-identified prescription records. Such prescription profiles would constitute certain patient's prescription habits, including an individual's medication types, pharmacies visited and dates dispensed. The briefs argue that linking and mining further public information to these drug profiles could result in patient re-identification.
IMS Health, Inc., of course, asserts that it has no knowledge of any patient re-identification and it protects such records with all the security privacy measures set forth under HIPAA and as strengthened by Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH). So what is the issue, I ask?
A pharmaceutical company does not need nor want to know who you are. Aggregate data is more beneficial to a marketing company, rather than just one record with your name on it. What benefit would a company get from a record that says, John Doe, DOB: 01-Jan-1984? The company could send you a mailer, but under the current regulations, you can opt out of the marketing material and it stops there. However, what helps a pharmaceutical company is aggregate datasets that say Dr. Jane Doe, MD writes 100 scripts for Lipitor ® a month. No one cares if the patients are unidentifiable, and most likely, the pharmaceutical company wants to keep it that way. Not only will the de-identified data be cheaper to buy, but it also assures the third party purchasing the data that it is not aiding a HIPAA violation.
Last, it is also asserted that there is no penalty for re-identification of personal health data, but there are stark penalties under HIPAA for "a person who knowingly ... (1) uses or causes to be used a unique health identifier; (2) obtains individually identifiable health information relating to an individual; or (3) discloses individually identifiable health information to another person."  If the offense is committed with the intent to sell, transfer or use the individually identifiable health information for commercial advantage, the penalty could be up to $250,000 and 10 years imprisonment.  If claims are brought against companies, like IMS Health, the companies will surely argue they are not covered entities subject to the penalties under HIPAA; however, this does not prevent civil lawsuits against them.
What will happen if a breach occurs due to patient re-identification? Most likely, the current healthcare environment where many companies are acting under corporate integrity agreements or deferred prosecution agreements, promotes reporting, if not out of altruistic purpose at least a compliance purpose. With this said, once reported to both the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Civil Rights, as well as, in most states, the Secretary of state, privacy and confidentiality laws require notification to be provided to the patient that has been re-identified. This patient whose privacy rights have been infringed can then bring an individual civil claim against the organization responsible for the disclosure of their health information as well as the collateral damages caused by the unauthorized disclosure. Now, what company today wants to get involved with this type of bad publicity?
In conclusion, just because the possibility exists that a patient can be re-identified with data mining practices, does not mean that our current environment will foster such. The nine Justices of the Supreme Court need to be more concerned with the First Amendment and the commercial speech implications of their ruling, rather than amici curiae briefs supporting public policy positions based on unwarranted fears of patient information disclosure.
I therefore urge you to put yourself in the role of your favorite Justice and consider if you should be more concerned that a company is going to buy your prescription records and try to determine that you took amoxicillin for a sinus infection when you were five years old, or if that company would rather purchase all the information you posted on Facebook ® or other social networking sites, including all the locations you have checked in. Which do you think is more useful to market its products? It is with this mindset that you must consider if the regulation directly advances the governmental interest "in protecting the public health of Vermonters, ... the privacy of prescribers and prescribing information" and is no more extensive than necessary to serve that interest. 
 Petition for Writ of Certiorari, Sorrel v. IMS Health, Inc., 131 S. Ct. 857, No. 10-779, Dec. 13, 2010.
 Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 18, § 4631 (2010).
 See Central Hudson Gas & Elec. Corp. v. Pub. Serv. Comm'n of N.Y., 447 U.S. 557 (1980).
 Brief of Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) et. al. as Amici curiae supporting Petitioners, Sorrel v. IMS Health, Inc., 131 S. Ct. 857, (2011) (No. 10-779), 24-9, available at, http://www.atg.state.vt.us/assets/files/10-779%20EPIC%20amicus%20Sorrell.pdf; Latanya Sweeney, Simple Demographics Often Identify People Uniquely (Carnegie Mellon University, Data Privacy Working Paper No. 3, 2000), available at, http://dataprivacylab.org/projects/identifiability/paper1.pdf.
 Privacy Rule of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), Pub. L. No. 104-191 (1996), 45 C.F.R. §§ 164.312(e)(2)(ii), 164.514(b)(2)(i) (2010).
 42 U.S.C. § 1320d-6(a)(1)-(3).
 Id. § 1320d-6(b).
 Brief of Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) et. al. as Amici curiae supporting petitioners, Sorrel, 131 S. Ct. 857, (No. 10-779).
 See Vt. Acts & Resolves No. 80, § 17 (2007) (Confidentiality of Prescription Information); Vt. Acts & Resolves No. 89, § 3 (2008) (amending Act 80).
Newly compiled data on payments to physicians from pharmaceutical companies has kindled mainstream media conversation on the ethics of such practices. NPR station WNYC ran this feature, showing the top physician earners in New York, and the radio piece, “Physicians on Pharma’s Payroll.” You can hear the radio piece immediately below. It is interesting in that in addition to giving background, the piece also features interviews of physicians on the receiving end of those payments. One of those doctors describes the process of recruitment– wherein Pharma reps track doctors’ prescription records to see who is using their wares, and then approaching those doctors to see if they’d be interested in being paid presenters– or educators– depending I suppose upon your frame of reference.
Seton Hall University Interim Vice Provost, Law Professor and regular contributor to HRW, Kathleen M. Boozang, appeared in the Star Ledger regarding the ramifications of Pharma payments totaling millions of dollars to physicians in New Jersey. The article was prompted by a Pro Publica database which has compiled information from court documents detailing payments by six pharmaceutical companies to physicians, as well as the voluntary disclosure of two quarters of such payment information by Merck. The database tracks these payments for the period between January, 2009 and June 2010; it is sortable by state and amount.
Within the above named limitations, seven New Jersey doctors received more than $100,000 during the timeframe shown, from the pharmaceutical companies named.
In addition, The Ledger reports:
Overall, seven pharmaceutical companies wrote 1,215 checks totaling $8.3 million to doctors in New Jersey, the 10th highest total in the nation, according to ProPublica.
Doctors nationwide earned $258.7 million for speaking and consulting, according to information culled from court documents involving six companies and records from Whitehouse Station-based Merck, which voluntarily disclosed two quarters of payment information. And that’s just a taste of the $1.2 billion doctors earn on the speaking circuit annually, according to a 2008 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association….
Kathleen M. Boozang, law professor at Seton Hall University’s Center for Health & Pharmaceutical Law and Policy, said new requirements to publicly disclose how much doctors are paid by drug companies aren’t enough to protect patients, noting many won’t look up their doctor on databases.
Boozang said while doctors may be in the best position to teach each other how to make decisions about which drugs or devices should be used, drug companies shouldn’t be paying them.
The Center last year issued a report calling for an end to “commercial support for continuing medical education,” suggesting medical schools and physician associations should take over the role of educating doctors. “We have blurred the line between promotion and education,” Boozang said. “It shouldn’t be the obligation of patients to protect themselves from conflicts of interest.”
Filed under: Drugs & Medical Devices, Ethics, State Initiatives
Next month marks the second anniversary of the enactment of the Massachusetts Pharmaceutical and Medical Device Manufacturer Code of Conduct, a law requiring pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturing companies to designate a compliance officer and implement a compliance program reflecting the commonwealth’s regulations on meals, CME sponsorship, use of non-patient identified prescriber data, gifts and other payments, etc. The law, which went into effect on July 1, 2009, builds upon the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America’s revised Code on Interactions with Healthcare Professionals (“PhRMA Code“) and the Advanced Medical Technology Association’s revised Code of Ethics on Interactions with Healthcare Professionals (“AdvaMed Code“), two voluntary codes intended to eliminate any influence — perceived or otherwise — of the industry over healthcare professionals with respect to gifts, entertainment, recreation, educational programs, professional meetings, scholarships, and the like.
The Massachusetts law is more restrictive, however, than its PhRMA and AdvaMed counterparts. It prohibits companies from sponsoring continuing medical education programs that do not meet Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education guidelines. The PhRMA and AdvaMed Codes do not. It prohibits any company employee from providing meals outside of a hospital or office setting. The PhRMA Code only restricts sales representatives and their immediate supervisors to a hospital or office setting. The AdvaMed Code does not impose any restrictions on the location of meals.
Furthermore, starting on July 1, 2010, the law requires companies to annually certify their compliance with commonwealth regulations and, among other things, to disclose any gifts or payments valued over $50 and given to anyone who can prescribe, purchase, or dispense drugs or devices. Effectively, it’s a ban on all gifts to prescribers (and in so doing goes a step further than the PhRMA and AdvaMed Codes which make an exception for educational gifts). Companies must also submit $2,000, payable to the commonwealth’s Department of Public Health, with each annual disclosure report. Violations can result in penalties up to $5,000 per occurrence. The first round of disclosures were due 16 days ago and covered activities for the July 1, 2009 to December 31, 2009 period. Next year companies will be expected to report on their activities for the January 1, 2010 to December 31, 2010 period. Or will they?
The Massachusetts House recently passed an economic development bill that repeals the disclosure requirement/gift ban (the bill also establishes a sales tax holiday and consolidates commonwealth economic agencies). The Senate version of the bill does not include the repeal. It’s a wait-and-see as to how the two chambers will work out the final bill through their conference committee.
Opponents of the gift ban claim it has adversely affected pharmaceutical clinical research as well as the restaurant and convention industries. Almost two years ago, PhRMA Senior Vice President Ken Johnson expressed his disappointment over the law, saying:
[it is] very likely damaging for medical partnerships, clinical research and patients in Massachusetts….
Public disclosure of a pharmaceutical company’s arrangements with principal investigators of its clinical trials also could reveal sensitive, proprietary business information to a company’s competitors. This could erode the independent decision-making of companies trying to bring science from research facilities to patient care setting….
The disclosure requirements subjects all of the physicians, academic institutions and hospitals involved in such trials to publicity in a form that may be difficult to understand and likely will generate unwanted and unnecessary public scrutiny. This could make Massachusetts an unattractive place for academic scientists to live and work — and for pharmaceutical research companies to do business. Such a policy clearly is not in the best interest of public health — and it flies in the face of the ongoing efforts to further cultivate the life sciences industry within Massachusetts.
Supporters of the law say otherwise. Health Care For All, a Massachusetts-based advocacy organization, views banning gifts as a step in the right direction. According to the organization:
[t]he pharmaceutical industry gives gifts to promote their drugs and make a higher profit. Under the guise of promoting welfare for all, the industry maximizes their own revenue….
Experts living within the guidelines of the gift ban find that it is not interfering with their work or professional relationships according to Dr. David Coleman, Boston University School of Medicine.
‘The Massachusetts Gift Ban legislation is an important step in the process of reducing both biases in therapeutic decision-making and healthcare costs. The Ban has not adversely impacted the important relationships of our physician-faculty with the pharmaceutical and device industries….’
Health Care For All also maintains there is no connection between the decrease in restaurant revenues and the law as:
[t]he Massachusetts Prescription Reform Coalition has researched the decrease in restaurant profits, and found sales are down across the country — including in states without a gift ban. According to the trade paper, Restaurants & Institutions, sales at the nation’s top 100 independent restaurants were down 10% in 2009….
Massachusetts Senators, who recognize the value of the gift ban legislation, also see that these lost profits mirror similar recession-caused losses in the restaurant industry across the country.
Georgia Maheras, Private Market Policy Manager at the Massachusetts Prescription Reform Coalition, considers the current House bill to be a “significant step backward” in the fight to curb medical costs.
Massachusetts is not alone in attempting to reform pharmaceutical and medical device marketing practices. Neighboring Vermont has a similar, and in fact more stringent, law which even allows the Attorney General’s office to track free samples given to physicians (though a reporter for the Times Argus, a Vermont newspaper, worries how a repeal in Massachusetts might have a ripple effect). California, the District of Columbia, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, and West Virginia also have some form of a marketing code. The federal government’s Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act includes the Physician Payment Sunshine Provision (“Provision”) requiring disclosure of payments made to physicians and teaching hospitals by manufacturers of products covered under Medicaid, Medicare, and SCHIP (click here to read a summary).
So who has it right? It would seem as though PhRMA and AdvaMed opened the door for state and federal government to codify modified versions of these industry codes. From a compliance perspective, it must be quite inefficient — and headache inducing — to wade through state marketing disclosure laws that lack uniformity. Starting January 1, 2012, the Provision will preempt state disclosure laws except for where the state requires additional information. Maybe this will help, maybe it will add to the headache, or maybe this particular episode will no longer matter. For now, though, from a patient perspective, a repeal of the Massachusetts disclosure requirement/gift ban, or that of any other state, would feel more like a gift to the industry and prescribers than a service to the “best interest of public health.”
The Center for Health & Pharmacy Law & Policy here at Seton Hall Law has issued two white papers addressing these issues: Conflicts of Interest in Clinical Trial Recruitment & Enrollment: A Call for Increased Oversight,” in which the Center proposes legal and policy changes to address conflicts of interest in the relationships between industry and doctors that can create unwarranted risks to trial participants and to the scientific integrity of research; and Drug and Device Promotion: Charting a Course for Policy Reform,” in which the Center proposes legal and policy changes to address conflicts of interest in the relationship of medicine and industry– including the recommendation “that industry funding for continuing medical education should be phased out, and replaced by an educational process driven by physicians.”
The Center has also recommended “the adoption of federal legislation to ban the use of gifts, meals, and other perks to promote drugs and devices. The states have taken the lead to date–Massachusetts, California, Minnesota, and the District of Columbia have passed laws to limit or ban gifts and meals that are now routine in marketing practices. Concluding that industry self-regulation is not sufficient, the Center calls for national legislation to create uniform practices by industry and physicians. As urged by Professor Boozang, ‘the benefits of drugs and devices should drive promotion and physicians’ decision to prescribe, not a marketing model that depends on gifts and meals.’”
Obviously, the adoption of additional federal standards in this regard will lessen the ability of industry to pit one state against another and make compliance easier. The Physician Payment Sunshine Provision is a step in that direction, the Massachusetts development bill is a step back.
Filed under: Advertising & Lobbying, Pharma, Prescription Drugs
Very interesting point made over at Gary Schwitzer’s Health News Review Blog regarding Industry funding of Continuing Medical Education (CME) for Nurse Practitioners (if you’ve never visited Mr. Schwitzer’s blog you should, he is informative, well written and generally brief).
Seton Hall Law’s Center for Health & Pharmaceutical Law & Policy issued a White Paper last year, “Drug and Device Promotion: Charting a Course for Policy Reform,” which called for a cessation of industry funding of CME. The Center noted:
Reforming Funding for Continuing Medical Education (CME). Most states require physicians to undertake continuing medical education to maintain their medical license. The drug and device industry currently funds over half of the accredited CME courses available to physicians. The Center recommends that industry funding for continuing medical education should be phased out, and replaced by an educational process driven by physicians.
- Ninety-four percent of physicians have some kind of financial relationship with industry, as reported in a major recent national study.
- Commercial support for accredited CME, nearly all of it from drug and device manufacturers, grew from $302 million in 1998 to $1.2 billion in 2006.
But what about nurse practitioners? Schwitzer, who attended the recent Georgetown Conference, “Prescription for Conflict: Should Industry Fund Continuing Medical Education?” noted that:
There are more nurse practitioners (147,000) than there are family physicians (100,000) in the US.
These advance practice nurse professionals can write prescriptions, and it’s estimated that the average nurse practitioner writes more than 6,000 a year.
And about 70-80% of those nurses who regularly attended lunch or dinner “continuing education” events sponsored by drug companies said they were more likely to prescribe the drugs that were highlighted in the lunch.
The presenter was nurse-researcher Elissa Ladd, PhD, RN, Asst. Clinical Professor, Massachusetts General Hospital Institute of Health Professions, who says the possible pharma influence on nurse-prescribers has largely flown “under the radar.”
A little quick and basic math will give us some inkling of just how much flies under that radar. We’ll use the minimum figure in all estimates. So…
147,000 Nurse Practioners each writing 6,000 prescriptions per year = 882,000,000 prescriptions. Yes, that’s 882 million prescriptions per year– conservatively estimated.
“More likely to prescribe the drugs that were highlighted in the lunch” we can estimate at 51%. We wind up with a potentially influenced 449,820,000 prescriptions. Again, conservatively estimated.
So now the only question is just what percentage or how many Nurse Practitioners “regularly attended lunch or dinner ‘continuing education’ events sponsored by drug companies?”
With a total pool of over 882 million prescriptions per year available– at least 450 million of them potentially swayed over lunch–my guess is that Pharma’s answer would be “As many as possible.”
Filed under: Advertising & Lobbying, Global Health Care, Pharma
Earlier this week, the Access to Medicine Foundation released its 2010 Access to Medicine Index, “a ranking of the world´s largest pharmaceutical companies on their efforts to increase access to medicine for societies in need.”
In a change from the 2008 Index, which was the first to be issued, the 2010 Index includes measures designed to assess companies’ commitment to, and practice of, ethical marketing behavior. Per the report accompanying the Index, “[t]he marketing and promotion of drugs can have a significant influence on the type of medicines that patients receive. Particularly in Index Countries [88 countries with low or medium levels of development] with less robust regulatory enforcement and consumer protection, the marketing behavior of pharmaceutical companies can shape access to both appropriate and affordable medicines. Unethical marketing can lead to suboptimal clinical decisions, prescription of more expensive drugs and irrational use of medicines by consumers, which can result in reduced treatment efficacy and other complications, such as adverse drug reaction and drug resistance.”
The Index ranks pharmaceutical companies’ marketing behavior along three axes: (1) commitments, (2) transparency, and (3) performance. In the commitments category, companies are assigned points for the marketing codes and standards they have adopted and that they require their local third party sales agents to adopt. For example, “originators,” i.e., research-based pharmaceutical companies, receive 5 points on a scale of 1-5 for committing to the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations (IFPMA) Code of Pharmaceutical Marketing Practices, the WHO Ethical Criteria for Medicinal Drug Promotion, “or an equivalent industry code.” Originators that have not committed to any external codes but that have an internal code which covers the same core principles receive 2.5 points. (The scoring is different for generics on this measure because they do not have a “viable up to date and auditable external code.”) With regard to third party sales agents, both originator and generic companies can receive all 5 points if they make “specific ethical marketing demands” of their sales agents and then audit the agents’ practices to ensure compliance.
For transparency, the Index gives points to companies that “publicly disclose detailed information regarding [their] marketing and promotional programs in the Index Countries, such as payments to physicians or other key opinion leaders and also its promotional activities for other healthcare providers, distributors, etc.” None of the companies earned any points in this category. While some have started to disclose payments made in the United States, no company has disclosed payments made in any of the Index Countries. According to the report, three companies — GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, and Roche — have pledged to disclose payments made in the Index Countries soon. Companies can also earn disclosure points for revealing breaches of marketing codes and marketing-related litigation in the Index Countries.
For the third category, performance, companies lose points if they breach the IFPMA Code or if they are sued or subjected to fines for marketing behavior. Companies can earn points for including binding ethical marketing requirements in their agreements with their sales agents and by establishing employee codes of conduct in the Index Countries equivalent to the codes they have in place in other markets. Despite the fact that issues have been raised “about pharmaceutical marketing practices in the Index Countries, especially regarding clear mention of … adverse side effects,” none of the companies studied lost any points in this category.
As the title of this post suggests, I think that the Index’s attempt to rank companies’ commitment to and practice of ethical marketing practices is important. Anyone who works in a law school knows how influential rankings can be — for better or for worse. It is easy to imagine the Access to Medicine rankings providing an additional nudge to companies to begin disclosing payments to healthcare providers around the world not just here in the United States. At the same time, there is ample room for refinement. In the performance category, for example, measures, in addition to breaching the IFPMA Code/being sued/ being fined, are needed to expose differences that surely exist in companies’ approaches to marketing in the Index Countries.
Filed under: Advertising & Lobbying, Drugs & Medical Devices, FDA
Earlier this month, the FDA launched a new initiative — the Bad Ad Program — to “help health care providers recognize misleading prescription drug promotion and provide them with an easy way to report this activity to the agency.” In an article appearing earlier this week in Advertising Age, advertising executives and others decry the program as a “publicity stunt” with the potential to lead to physician “vigilantism” and to become “unbridled and messy.” Also quoted in the article is PhRMA Senior Vice President Ken Johnson, who states that PhRMA views the Bad Ad Program as “another step to help educate — and receive feedback from — healthcare providers about prescription drug advertising and promotion.” The Advertising Age article, correctly I think, characterizes this statement as offering only “tepid support.”
There appear to be two central criticisms of the Bad Ad Program: (1) that it is not as low-cost as it seems because it will take up physicians’ time and create more work for the FDA’s already overburdened Division of Drug Marketing, Advertising, and Communications (DDMAC) and (2) that it will be an ineffective compliance tool either because doctors cannot tell the difference between compliant and noncompliant advertising or because doctors will “go on personal jihads on ads they don’t like – ads that very well might be in perfect compliance.”
Both concerns seem overblown. Doctors do not have to participate if they do not have the time or inclination — it seems likely that most will not — and pharmaceutical companies have been reporting each other’s marketing abuses to DDMAC for years, so the Division has experience sifting through more and less credible information. Doctors may well have difficulty discerning which ads are compliant and which are not — see, e.g., this study revealing that doctors could not accurately identify the FDA-approval status of a significant percentage of the drugs they prescribe — but this is not an argument against the FDA’s effort to educate them.
The bottom line is that while pharmaceutical companies track what happens in physician offices in multiple ways, including through sales rep call notes and sales message recall studies, they do not, at least not consistently and/or voluntarily, use the information gathered in service of compliance, as opposed to sales, goals. In the words of Arnie Friede, to the extent that the FDA’s Bad Ad Program creates “an additional incentive for a company to closely monitor and control communications by their sales people” it is “an understandable, perhaps even brilliant move.”
Filed under: Advertising & Lobbying, Drugs & Medical Devices
The FDA has been widely criticized for not providing guidance for drug companies eager to promote their products on the internet. Earlier this year, the FDA expressed the view that the message was what was important, not the medium, meaning that companies should simply apply the rules governing prescription drug advertising in print media to the internet. On April 2, 2009 the agency issued Notice of Violation letters to 14 companies who sponsored links on internet search engines advertising their products; the links gave the name of the drug and, in some cases, its indicated use, without including the required “fair balance,” i.e., safety information such as contraindications and potential side effects. In reliance on the so-called “one-click rule” — which had never actually been adopted by the FDA — the companies had put the required safety information one click away on a separate page.
In recent months, the FDA has indicated that it is open to providing internet-specific marketing guidance. Yesterday and today (November 13th) the agency is holding a hearing on “Promotion of FDA–Regulated Medical Products Using the Internet and Social Media Tools.” Representatives from advertising agencies, consumer groups, health-related websites, pharmaceutical companies, and search engines are scheduled to testify.
In written testimony released before the hearing, PhRMA, the pharmaceutical industry’s trade group, proposed that the FDA approve a standard universal warning: PhRMA suggests “All drugs have risks. Click here for more information from the manufacturer.” — for use “in places throughout the Web where there is not enough room for complete disclosure of all warnings, indications, and contraindications (e.g., search results and microblog posts.)” Such a warning would, PhRMA argues, allow companies to take advantage of sponsored links, make full use of Twitter, etcetera, while also providing easy access to safety information. PhRMA even suggests that the warning incorporate the FDA’s logo, arguing that this could mitigate against “the dangers posed by illegal Internet drug sellers.”
It will be interesting to see whether and how the proposals of the other groups represented at the hearing differ from PhRMA’s, and, of course, whether the FDA in the end decides that its “fair balance” requirements should be modified for the web. Among the other interesting issues FDA may address is companies’ responsibility for web content they do not control. Google’s introduction of Sidewiki, which allows anyone visiting a pharmaceutical company’s website to leave a comment, has brought this issue to the fore, raising, for example, the prospect of doctors discussing a product’s off-label uses on the manufacturer’s site.
Anyone who wishes to comment on these or other internet-specific promotion issues may do so through February 28, 2010.
Filed under: Advertising & Lobbying, Drugs & Medical Devices, Proposed Legislation
At the Food and Drug Law Institute’s 21st Annual Advertising & Promotion Conference John Kamp of the pro-industry Coalition for Healthcare Communication discussed four proposals addressing drug advertising and marketing issues that may be incorporated into the final health care reform bill but have not been widely debated. Mr. Kamp’s presentation is available here.
Off the Table (For Now)
Of most concern to industry is an oft-floated proposal to eliminate the tax deduction for drug advertising. (See, for example, bills sponsored by Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Representative Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) here and here.) Most recently, on September 11, 2009 Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), a member of the Senate Finance Committee, announced his plan to put forth an amendment to the Baucus Bill that would eliminate the “tax break drugmakers get for TV advertising.”
Direct-to-consumer advertising is a prime target because, as the New York Times put it, for many “the ads are a daily reminder of a health care system run amok,” which “prompt people to diagnose themselves with chronic quality-of-life problems like insomnia or restless leg syndrome; lead people to pressure their doctors for prescriptions for expensive brand-name drugs to treat these conditions; and steer people away from cheaper generic pills.” There is also concern that DTC ads do not present an accurate picture of drug risks and benefits and that they drive uptake of new drugs before their safety is fully known.
Another obvious driver is the need to pay for health care reform. Senator Nelson echoed a claim made earlier this year by Congressman Charles Rangel (D-NY) that eliminating the tax break for TV ads would free up $37 billion over the next ten years. Industry representatives contest the $37 billion figure, arguing that drug companies spend far too little on direct-to-consumer advertising to achieve that level of additional tax revenue. They contend that Congress would have to eliminate the tax deduction for physician advertising and other marketing expenditures to garner $37 billion.
Less than a week after he announced it, Senator Nelson backed off his plan, perhaps under pressure from other members of Congress who come from districts with a strong media presence and have spoken out against eliminating the deduction. According to Mr. Kamp, however: “Somebody else will raise this again before it’s over, you bet … Baucus says the reforms will cost $850 billion, the Congressional budget office $750 billion. Three-quarters of a trillion dollars is a lot of real money in Washington. The $37 billion will continue to be in the buffet of options as they try and figure out healthcare.”
Still on the Table
Three proposals related to drug and device promotion are still on the table, with varying chances for inclusion in the final health care reform bill.
First, health care reform bills in both the House and the Senate contain transparency provisions akin to those in the Physicians Payments Sunshine Act of 2009 introduced in January by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA). Seton Hall Law’s Center for Health & Pharmaceutical Law & Policy recommended that disclosure of drug and device company payments to doctors be federally mandated in its January 2009 white paper. As the Sunshine Act has widespread support, including from industry, transparency provisions are likely to be included in the final bill.
Second, Section 138 of the health care reform bill reported out of the House Education and Labor Committee bans the commercial use of “prescription information containing patient identifiable and prescriber identifiable data,” essentially adopting as federal law New Hampshire’s ban on prescription data mining which survived a First Amendment challenge in the First Circuit. If passed, Section 138 would end drug reps’ current practice of tailoring their sales messages to each doctor’s prescribing history, which many believe creates undue pressure on doctors to prescribe newer more expensive medications.
Third, a bill sponsored by Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) would authorize the FDA to evaluate whether use of a “drug facts box” format for presenting a drug’s benefits and risks would improve healthcare decision making and, if so, to promulgate regulations requiring that drug facts boxes be added to drug labels. Senator Reed’s bill also empowers the FDA to set standards for comparative clinical effectiveness information included in drug labeling and advertising.
It is difficult to predict whether the data mining ban or Senator Reed’s bill will be included in the final health care reform bill. Mr. Kamp calls Senator Reed’s bill’s chances a “toss up;” regarding the data mining ban, he has “no idea.”