[Ip-health] New Pharma Image Ad Campaign--A More Truthful Version

Fran Quigley fwquigley at gmail.com
Mon Feb 6 12:03:09 PST 2017


http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/39355-big-pharma-launches-sentimental-ad-
campaign-to-distract-from-skyrocketing-drug 

 

Big Pharma Launches Sentimental Ad Campaign to Distract From Skyrocketing
Drug Prices

 

The pharmaceutical industry has a massive public relations problem, and it
knows it. Even our new, unapologetically pro-corporate President says drug
companies are "
<https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/23/health/the-fight-trump-faces-over-drug-p
rices.html> getting away with murder." Americans name prescription drug
prices as
<http://kff.org/report-section/kaiser-health-tracking-poll-september-2016-po
litics-and-rx-costs/> a top concern, and a January poll showed only
<http://www.theharrispoll.com/health-and-life/Pharma-Biotech-Patients-Over-P
rofits.html> 9% of people in the U.S. feel that pharmaceutical companies
prioritize patients over profits.

          Pharma's critics have a lot of evidence to support their low
opinion of the industry. Beyond high-profile scandals like the
<http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2016/08/25/epipen-maker-offer-discounts
-after-firestorm/89329122/> 500% increase in the cost of the lifesaving
anti-allergy Epi-Pens, drug prices overall
<https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2016/01/11/prescripti
on-drug-prices-jumped-more-than-10-percent-in-2015/?utm_term=.b226a9c20802>
rise each year far above the rate of inflation. Those prices fuel drug
company  <http://www.bbc.com/news/business-28212223> profits and
<http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/markets/2016/08/26/drug-money-pharma-ce
os-paid-71-more/89369152/> executive pay that are even higher than the
amounts pulled in by other mega-corporations. One example: Pfizer earns
<http://www.salon.com/2016/02/11/pharmaceutical_corporations_rake_in_billion
s_on_pneumonia_vaccines_while_millions_in_poor_countries_go_without/> more
than $17 million each day from a pneumonia vaccine that, until recently, was
priced so high that millions of children around the world couldn't receive
it.

             Those sky-high prices mean that as many as one in four
Americans
<https://www.pharmacycheckerblog.com/50-million-americans-ages-19-64-forgo-m
eds-in-2012-due-to-cost> skip taking prescribed medicine doses because they
cannot afford them, including
<http://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(15)00430-9/pdf> one
in five cancer patients.  A U.S. Senate investigation showed only about
<http://www.finance.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/1%20The%20Price%20of%20Sovaldi%
20and%20Its%20Impact%20on%20the%20U.S.%20Health%20Care%20System%20(Full%20Re
port).pdf> 2% of U.S. Medicaid patients were being treated with a Hepatitis
C cure, which is remarkably effective but priced at a massive $84,000 for a
12-week course. Globally,
<http://www.who.int/medicines/areas/human_rights/A63_263.pdf> ten million
people per year die because they cannot afford the medicines they need.

             These are people, not abstract statistics. At our law school
clinic, we see people in our own U.S. community who cannot afford to fill
prescriptions for serious illnesses like diabetes and heart disease. Last
year, I spoke with a young South African mother,
<http://www.indystar.com/story/opinion/2016/11/22/quigley-mother-dies-medici
nes-cost/94278814/> Tobeka Daki, who could not afford to have her breast
cancer treated with the medicine trastuzumab, marketed as Herceptin.
Although a year's dose can be manufactured for as little as $176
<http://infojustice.org/archives/33877> , the price in South Africa was
marked up to $34,000, many times higher than Tobeka's income. She  died in
November,  never having received the medicine.  Roche, the corporation which
holds the monopoly rights to trastuzumab, made
<http://www.reuters.com/article/us-roche-results-idUSKCN0V60SS> $11.6
billion in profit the last full year of Tobeka's life.        

         Last month, pharma companies announced that some of their windfall
profits will be dedicated to addressing the industry's PR problem. In
January, the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers Association
(PhRMA) launched the first commercial in an image-bolstering campaign called
"Go Boldly," on which it plans to spend
<https://www.statnews.com/2017/01/23/phrma-drug-industry-marketing-campaign/
> as much as $100 million. The
<http://adage.com/article/cmo-strategy/big-pharma-lobbying-group-debuts-nati
onal-campaign/307659/> first ad in the campaign features handsome actors in
lab coats peering intently into microscopes, alternating with scenes of
grateful patients, all imposed over the words "Today's breakthrough becomes
tomorrow's medicine." A soaring instrumental score is accompanied by a
stentorian-voiced narration of the Dylan Thomas poem, "Do Not Go Gentle."
"We have a great story to tell," PhRMA President and CEO Stephen Ubl
<https://www.statnews.com/pharmalot/2017/01/23/phrma-ad-campaign-drug-indust
ry/> said when announcing the campaign.

 

            The problem is that the story being told is profoundly
misleading. A truth-in-advertising version of the new ad would include:

             --A costume change. The actors' lab coats would be swapped out
for $5,000 power suits, because the heroes of the pharmaceutical industry's
financial success are its lobbyists, not its researchers. The industry
reliably spends more than any other on
<http://www.statista.com/statistics/257364/top-lobbying-industries-in-the-us
/> lobbying expenses and  <http://www.opensecrets.org/industries/mems.php>
political campaign contributions. Thanks to those lobbyists, generations of
well-established law and cultural practice that treated medicines as
<http://fpif.org/corporations-killed-medicine-heres-take-back/> a public
good have been reversed, replaced with a global system of government-granted
patent monopolies to corporations. These same lobbyists have also managed to
make the U.S. the only large nation that prevents itself by law from
<http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20151114/MAGAZINE/311149963>
negotiating down the price the government pays for medicines, specifically
in the Medicare system. The result of their efforts is a guaranteed
no-competition market on life-or-death products, assuring that the
record-breaking profits keep rolling in.  

             --New sets. In the more truthful version of the ad, patients
would be shown in debtors' court, because healthcare costs are the leading
cause of  <http://www.cnbc.com/id/100840148> U.S. family bankruptcies. Other
scenes would occur in kitchens where seniors
<https://www.pharmacycheckerblog.com/50-million-americans-ages-19-64-forgo-m
eds-in-2012-due-to-cost> cut their pills in half, and even in morgues
occupied by the millions who could not afford the costs of the prescribed
medicines. 

             --Wardrobe adjustment.  A few researchers would remain in the
new version of the ad, but their lab coats would now be emblazoned with the
logo, "Paid for by U.S. Taxpayers." The necessary-evil justification offered
for huge drug price markups and corporate profits is that those dollars are
needed to
<http://catalyst.phrma.org/fact-check-friday-the-truth-about-industrys-role-
in-r-and-d> support research and development.  But research and development
for the most valuable medicines -- particularly the research that is
conducted at the most risky stages of the process -- are more often
<http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/30/2/332.abstract> funded by
governments and  <http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000030> nonprofits
than by corporations.

           Worse, the government plays a role described by some as the
<http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/37111-the-100-000-per-year-pill-how-us-h
ealth-agencies-choose-pharma-over-patients> "dumb venture capitalist."
Governments pay billions per year
<https://www.hhs.gov/about/budget/budget-in-brief/nih/index.html> for
medicines research, hand over the resulting monopoly patents to corporations
(the
<https://www.hhrjournal.org/2016/12/will-trump-march-in-and-bring-down-drug-
prices/> 1980 law that allows this give-away was another signature triumph
for drug industry lobbyists), and then pay monopoly mark-up prices as
purchasers of the very same medicines.  For example, the U.S. National
Institutes of Health and Department of Defense funded the research that led
to the discovery of the prostate cancer drug enzalutamide, then allowed the
patent to be privatized. Now, the U.S. government pays a Japanese
pharmaceutical corporation $100,00 per year per patient for the medicine it
paid to discover, which can be manufactured for
<http://www.forterietimes.ca/2016/04/26/niagara-company-offers-us-cheaper-ca
ncer-drug> 1/20th of that cost.

             --New camera angle.  At some point, the advertising and
production companies that created this commercial would turn the cameras on
themselves, because they are a big part of the pharma story, too. The
industry spends
<http://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.00500
01> more on marketing than it does on research.  That ratio reflects the
industry's need to pitch new products that are predominately
<http://blogs.plos.org/yoursay/2015/10/13/talking-about-drug-prices-access-t
o-medicines/>  "me too" drugs, so named because they offer no new
therapeutic benefit. Instead, they are aimed at carving out a piece of
existing lucrative markets for products like erectile dysfunction drugs or
cosmetic medicines. In fact, far more industry dollars have been spent on
<http://www.pharmacytimes.com/news/10-most-advertised-brand-name-drugs>
marketing erectile dysfunction drugs than on researching for cures for
diseases that kill millions each year. 

             Of course, this more truthful version of the pharma ads will
never run. But the good news about the current ad campaign is that the
industry feels it is needed. Although the president's meager fulminations on
drug prices are more than counteracted by his many proposals that would
<https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/22/us/politics/donald-trump-health-plan-med
icaid.html?_r=0> reduce access to medicines, lawmakers have heard the
populist anger at drug companies. They are proposing reforms ranging from
treating  <http://nashp.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Rx-Paper.pdf> drug
companies as utilities to allowing
<http://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/267005-trump-calls-for-medicare-to-neg
otiate-drug-prices> Medicare drug price negotiations to
<http://keionline.org/sites/default/files/transparency-legislation-summary-k
ei-briefing-note-2016-2.pdf> mandating basic transparency of the costs of
drug research and marketing. With so much government money already in the
system, there is a
<https://www.hhrjournal.org/2015/11/making-medicines-accessible-alternatives
-to-the-flawed-patent-system-2/> menu of major reforms that can quickly
direct those dollars away from windfall profits into much-improved access
and more meaningful research.

             That is what Americans want. Hopefully, a misleading ad
campaign won't distract them from demanding it.   

 

       Fran Quigley teaches and directs the Health and Human Rights Clinic
at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law and helps coordinate
<http://www.pfamrx.org> People of Faith for Access to Medicines.

 




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