It’s a $4b business in the USA, New Zealand has gone there but pulled back and the EU bans it. But does a recent Brussels announcement open the door to direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising throughout Europe?
Who: The European Commission's Pharmaceutical Forum
When: September 2006
With a tantalysing hint of more to come, European pharmaceutical uberstakeholder group the Pharmaceutical Forum published progress reports and proposals for further action in various macro drug areas including "Information to patients."
Strangely the report makes no expansive reference to the current EU wide ban on direct to consumer advertising of prescription drugs, or to the contrast with the US, for example, where "DTC" prescription drug advertising is a $4.1 billion business, and online, where consumer friendly information about just about any drug can be accessed at a keystroke.
Colin Webb, patient advocate representative on the European Commission's Enterprise and Industry Directorate-General was recently quoted by Advertising Age as commenting: "We are in this ludicrous situation in Europe where anyone is free to give information, quite legally, about pharmaceutical products –except the industry which makes them."
The Pharmaceutical Forum was recently formed by the European Commission to, it says here, "bring together EU member states, the pharmaceutical industry, public health and information groups….. to achieve the benefits of Europe-wide cooperation."
Mission to improve quality of medicine info
In its Mission Statement, the Forum cites one of its chief aims as to give advice to the Commission on ways to improve the quality of information on authorised medicines available to European patients. This will supplement, the Forum says perhaps pseudo deferentially, the key role of health professionals in providing information to patients on medicines and health issues.
"Patients are increasingly loaded" the report goes on, "with different information provided by multiple parties with different objectives and sent through multiple channels (e.g. the Internet). This initiative will cover different topics that could help improve electronic and non electronic information for patients.," the report says.
With not even a hint of the "A" word, the report talks of "developing a model package of information for patients on diseases, using diabetes as a first example."
Other suggested ways to improve the quality of access to medicines information are
- "considering areas for more harmonised EU wide action on information on medicines"
– "developing guidance in Europe on the production of high quality and easily understandable and accessible information on diseases and medicines"
– "according to a set of core principles/criteria and appropriate assessment and validation procedures to be agreed, guidance for patients on the production of high quality health related informationfor patients as a framework for information on diseases and medicines."
Why this matters
What does this all mean?
One might be forgiven for thinking this was all aimed at developing public service information repositaries, untainted by mammon in the form of the makers of the medicines themselves.
But a perhaps different note is struck by a passing reference in the report to the decline in relative terms of the European pharmaceutical industry compared to its competitors.
Dare one suspect that, albeit thickly veiled in Euro-speak, we have here the seeds of a realistic reappraisal of Europe's DTC advertising regime with, subject of course to tight controls just as in the US, permitted DTC prescription drug advertising not that far ahead? Marketinglaw's money is on this arriving within 5 years at the outside.