A new survey out indicates that drug companies spend twice as much on the promotion of their products than they do researching and developing them.
It comes this week from a paper on the Public Library of Science Web site.
From this new estimate, it appears that pharmaceutical companies spend almost twice as much on promotion as they do on R&D. These numbers clearly show how promotion predominates over R&D in the pharmaceutical industry, contrary to the industry's claim. While the amount spent on promotion is not in itself a confirmation of Kefauver's depiction of the pharmaceutical industry, it confirms the public image of a marketing-driven industry and provides an important argument to petition in favor of transforming the workings of the industry in the direction of more research and less promotion.
The paper is heavy on methodology and requires some thick reading. But it leads to an obvious discussion.
It was less than a year ago, you may recall, that a study showed Minnesota doctors received tens of thousands of dollars in payments and speaking fees (all legal) from the drug companies.
(h/t The Consumerist)
And the ads work. At my annual checkup was reading a waiting room magazine. I jokingly held it open to a two page spread and asked my doctor for a widely advertised medication for a minor physical disorder that I do not have. The drug's side effects listed quickly in the fine print included symptoms 'way worse than the "disease". She answered, "I get serious requests for widely advertised drugs all the time. That one there costs $200 a month". I go to her because she does not prescribe unnecessary or expensive drugs unless they are - well, necessary.
I recognize the controversy between research for and promotion of new pharmaceuticals. However as a prescriber, I personally do not receive any compensation for deciding when or when not to prescribe a new drug. I do however rely heavily on easy access to information about it. The doctors who speak on behalf of a drug company often do not even present on the company's product. they may present new research about schizophrenia, or other insidious diseases. Later the pharmaceutical companies provide time to present information about their product, research results, methodology, etc. I find the information invaluable when deciding a new med may or may not be worth trying with a patient who may not be finding relief from older meds.
I'm not a fan of the tv ads or ads in "everyday magazines", but sometimes if a patient has a question about one, it does open the door for me to educate them further about their illness, etc. If promotion is to be cut back, I would find that the first area that we could do without. But sometimes an ad in a medical journal may be the first time I come across a new medication and again it allows me to become more knowledgeable because I am prompted to do research about it. No doubt a thin line, but if promotion were to stop entirely, we would have many more drugs available and more affordable, but with no information about them why would a reliable medical professional prescribe them?