How drug com­pa­nies take ad-van­tage of the rules

Daily Times (Primos, PA) - - NEWS - Jo­dine May­berry Colum­nist

To­mor­row marks an im­por­tant mile­stone for Amer­i­can con­sumers.

No, it’s not the Preak­ness or the royal wed­ding.

It’s the 25th an­niver­sary of the day the very first di­rect-to-con­sumer pre­scrip­tion drug ad ran on TV.

We have been driven crazy by these ads ever since.

Just in the last cou­ple of days I have seen ads urg­ing us to “talk to your doc­tors” about: Hu­mira, Lan­tus, Lyrica, Taltz, Sym­bi­cort, Linzess, Bril­inta, Tre­siba, Chan­tix, Xarelto, Trem­fya, Har­voni, Eliquis, Verzenio, Farx­iga, Bo­tox Cos­metic and Trulic­ity.

The ads cre­ate the de­mand and Big Pharma cre­ates the sup­ply, which brings in the re­ally, re­ally big bucks – $329 bil­lion in 2016.

That’s not go­ing to change de­spite Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s much bal­ly­hooed, 44-page drug cost re­duc­tion plan.

Only the United States and New Zealand per­mit di­rect-to-con­sumer pre­scrip­tion drugs ad­ver­tis­ing.

I don’t know how they do it in New Zealand, but here in the U.S., the U.S. Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion re­quires the drug com­pa­nies to list their prod­ucts’ ma­jor side ef­fects. Some ads re­ally stretch the rules. They of­ten dis­tract you by showing per­fectly healthy peo­ple do­ing fun things, like danc­ing or blow­ing bub­bles, while the voice-over warns of all the harm­ful ef­fects (“lead­ing to death”) the drugs can have.

For ex­am­ple, Eliquis, a danger­ous blood thin­ner, shows an ac­tor dream­ing about a sail­boat as a voice-over delivers warn­ings so dire any sane per­son would be run­ning for the near­est exit.

It’s no co­in­ci­dence that the vast ma­jor­ity of the ad­ver­tised drugs are for chronic con­di­tions for which con­sumers are ex­pected to take the drugs for the rest of their lives – di­a­betes, car­diac con­di­tions, pso­ri­a­sis, COPD, high choles­terol, acid re­flux.

These drugs en­joy a 20-year patent pro­tec­tion, dur­ing which they are sup­posed to re­coup their re­search and de­vel­op­ment costs. There are no gener­ics and the brand names are ridicu­lously ex­pen­sive.

Trem­fya, a new drug for plaque pso­ri­a­sis, has a list price of $11,811 a sy­ringe.

Hu­mira, the best-selling drug for rheuma­toid arthri­tis, costs about $5,000 for two sy­ringes, and Har­voni, for hep­ati­tis C, costs $84,000 for a 10- to 12-week course of treat­ment.

In de­vel­op­ing Har­voni, Gilead Sciences made the mis­take of cre­at­ing a drug that ac­tu­ally cures some­thing, which will se­verely limit its fu­ture prof­its, as a re­cent Gold­man Sachs re­port noted.

“Is cur­ing pa­tients a sus­tain­able busi­ness model?” its an­a­lysts asked, invit­ing the ob­vi­ous an­swer – no, be­cause then you don’t have any more pa­tients to cure.

But don’t cry for Gilead. It made $12.5 bil­lion off the drug in 2015 and $4 bil­lion last year.


An ad for the drug of stroke. Xarelto, a blood thin­ner used to de­crease the chance

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