Pharmaceutical Industry Marketing

It has been estimated that in 2004, the US pharmaceutical industry spent $57.5

billion on marketing (Gagnon and Lexchin 2008). This huge expenditure produced

a tremendous return for the drug industry at a highly profitable time and was used

for (Brody 2007; Kassirer 2005; Angell 2004; Avorn 2004):

  • • A large sales force of “detail people” or sales representatives (“drug reps”), who speak with physicians individually in their practices, often bringing lunch for the entire office staff
  • • A data system that keeps the reps informed as to the prescribing habits of each physician in their territory, so that their marketing approach can be precisely calibrated
  • • Samples of drugs for free distribution to patients from physicians’ offices
  • • Dinners for physicians held at fancy restaurants, featuring a talk on a drug-related topic by a drug rep or (preferably) a physician hired by the company
  • • Print advertisements in medical journals
  • • Reprints of journal articles favorable to a company’s drug, distributed by the drug reps
  • • Magazine and television advertisements direct to consumers (legally permitted in only two nations, the USA and New Zealand)
  • • Financial support for continuing medical education (CME) programs, often featuring drug-advertising displays and receptions for attendees, as well as support for the educational presentations
  • • Financial rewards to high-prescribing physicians, such as payment for drug talks or expenses to attend CME conferences
  • • “Seeding trials,” which masquerade as legitimate scientific studies of drugs already approved for marketing, but function actually as programs that reward practitioners for prescribing the drug by paying them to enroll patients in the “study” and to record minimal data
  • • Generous contributions to disease-specific patient advocacy groups, such as the American Diabetes Association and the National Alliance on Mental Illness, to encourage industry-friendly policies and educational materials
  • • Internet-based marketing strategies, that, for example, might use a pop-up ad for a drug when a physician goes to a medical reference website to look up the disease for which that drug is often prescribed (Dolan 2013)

Besides these practices, which can be labeled clearly as marketing, the reach of the marketing division within the drug firm commonly extends further. For example, it appears to be common business practice to involve marketing staff in all planning for scientific clinical trials, to assure that the trial design and results maximally facilitate later marketing efforts. Clinical trials of promising drugs have been stopped prematurely by the company based on marketing estimates that sale of the new drug would not be as profitable as had been hoped (Psaty and Rennie 2003). While companies do not readily reveal such figures, the most reliable estimates indicate that the average company spends two to three times as much on marketing as on research and development (Reinhardt 2001).

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