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Advertising a prescription medicine to the general public: what’s going on?

This full-page ad ran in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph.


There has been some chat on the Australian Healthcare Communicators Network to the effect that this looks very much like direct to consumer advertising (access for those on LinkedIn).

The Medicines Australia Code of Conduct, edition 16: states that:

12.1 General principles

The promotion of products covered by the Code of Conduct to the general public would breach the Commonwealth therapeutic goods legislation and this Code which stipulate that prescription products must not be promoted to the public.

Presumably someone, somewhere is filing a complaint to the Code of Conduct committee??? (Again).

Comments 5

  1. M Palin says:

    This ad certainly caught my eye as well and i have contributed to the discussion about it on LinkedIn. I have no interest in getting anyone into trouble over it and do not have the sponsor as a current client but I’ve been in the healthcare PR game for nearly 20 years and I can’t ever remember seeing an ad like this with a direct consumer-facing call to action in regard to a named prescription brand. Maybe someone from Medicines Australia or a regulatory person from a manufacturer can put it into context for us because I am sure there are lots of medical marketers and consultants (including me) who would be interested to learn more about it. If it is possible to legitimately correct community misconceptions in Australia about prescription medicines via direct advertising, then that would be an important development to confirm.

  2. Ken Harvey says:

    I’ve now put in a formal complaint to Medicines Australia.

    “I submit that this advertisement is promoting a prescription drug to the general public; a breach of Section 12.3 of the Code:.

    These advertisements were clearly prompted by the fact that Lipitor went off patent from May 2012 and more cost-effective generic versions of the same active ingredient are now available.

    I argue that the advertisements are a strategy of Pfizer’s to maintain market share of a product now exposed to competition.

    Pfizer no doubt will argue that these advertisements are educational. I disagree!

    Pfizer state they have, “received many inquiries from patients who have been informed Lipitor is no longer available.”

    Such inquires provide Pfizer with a legitimate opportunity to correct misinformation from those consumers who have specifically asked.

    In addition, if Pfizer felt there was misunderstanding by doctors or pharmacists about the on-going availability of “Lipitor®” it would have been appropriate to communicate the facts directly to these health professionals via the usual channels.

    In my opinion, the fact that these extensive (and expensive) advertisements were directed to the general public clearly shows that the aim was to reinforce the brand name of “Lipitor®” and its popularity (“more than 1 million patients prescribed” in the minds of the patients who had been prescribed “Lipitor®” in the hope that such patients will question why they have been prescribed or recommended a generic alternative.

    If the advertisement was truly educational it should have pointed out that “Lipitor®” is now off patent; that this has provided the opportunity for generic companies to compete on price and such competition results in lower drug prices for the PBS, taxpayers and consumers.

    In short, patients are likely to find their doctors prescribing generic atorvastatin (or pharmacists recommending a generic substitute) not because “Lipitor®” is unavailable but because this helps the sustainability of the PBS.”

  3. M Palin says:

    The question in my initial post – about whether or not pharmaceutical manufacturers are legitimately able to correct apparent consumer misconceptions about prescription-only medicines via branded advertisements in Australian media targeted directly at consumers – looks set to be answered one way or another.

  4. Ken Harvey says:

    Pfizer Country Medical Director, Bill Ketelbey, said (in Pharminfocus today), “We reject any suggestion that the Community Service Notification is promotional activity. We have made no claims around efficacy or comparisons with other medicines, we make no comment on the features or benefits of Lipitor, and in fact make no reference to what Lipitor is for. The notification would be meaningless to anyone not on Lipitor. Our sole motivation has been to correct the clear patient confusion, anxiety and potential harm we are seeing in patients who have been prescribed Lipitor.”

    I understand that Pfizer have told journalists that the ads are scheduled for repeat insertions this weekend and they will still run.

  5. Ken Harvey says:

    Has anyone seen any more Pfizer ads this weekend?

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