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What Will Be The End Result Of Bullying Biopharma?

  • March 14, 2016

  • By Rob Wright, Chief Editor, Life Science Leader

    If as adults we could invisibly walk on school playgrounds during recess, we might hear the stock response recited when encountering a bully — ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

    How could we be so wrong?

    Words most certainly hurt, but not just people. Companies, even entire industries, can be negatively impacted by the words we chose to describe their leaders, companies, and products. For example, consider a recent Wall Street Journal article by Peter Loftus with the headline — Ads for Costly Drugs Get Airtime.

    Are We Forgetting The Positive Effects Of Drugs?

    Ever since the FDA began allowing pharmaceutical companies to advertise prescription medication directly to consumers and drug companies figured out how to do so in keeping with all of the rules, DTC television advertising has been an integral component of biopharmaceutical marketing campaigns. According to Loftus, viewers of Fox’s broadcast of “Grease Live” on January 31 were treated to a glimpse of the latest biopharmaceutical industry marketing tactic — television commercials touting “costly” drugs. The commercial he references is for Bristol-Myers Squibb’s (BMS) Opdivio (nivolumab), indicated for melanoma, lung cancer, or kidney cancer, and shows patients and family members gazing up at hopeful messages projected onto buildings (e.g., A chance to live longer). Bruce Radcliff, a patient currently taking the drug since before it was commercially available, says the television spot creates “hope” for those suffering from this serious disease. And yet, the headline and focus of the article are about how much drug companies spend annually on television advertising, which — to me — is missing the big picture. For example, in the article Loftus claims that it would cost the average U.S. patient about $12,500 a month for Opdivio. He doesn’t explain how he arrived at that cost nor how he defines the average U.S. patient. Nevertheless, with a wholesale acquisition cost (WAC) in the $130,000/year ballpark (which does not reflect what wholesale distributors, payers, and PBMs actually pay), even if these cancer patients were paying only 25 percent of the WAC price out of their own pockets, $2,700 a month for most Americans is pretty darn expensive. But what cannot be debated is the drug’s effectiveness for those who are suffering.

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