Expensive ads sell few prescription drugs: study

Mon Sep 1, 2008 7:07pm EDT
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By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Expensive advertising of prescription drugs directly to consumers may do little to encourage sales, U.S. and Canadian researchers reported on Monday.

They said that even though companies spent an estimated $3 billion in 2005 on such ads in the United States, they did not appear to result in more prescriptions.

Most countries ban direct advertising of prescription medications, with the exceptions of the United States and New Zealand.

"People tend to think that if direct-to-consumer advertising wasn't effective, pharma wouldn't be doing it," Harvard Medical School's Stephen Soumerai said in a statement. "But as it turns out, decisions to market directly to consumers are based on scant data."

The team at Harvard and the University of Alberta set up an experiment using French-speaking Quebec residents as their "control" group.

English-dominant Canadians see a great deal of U.S. advertising, but French-speaking Quebecois see far less and thus are less likely to be influenced, the researchers reported in the British Medical Journal.

The researchers looked at three drugs: Enbrel, or etancercept, sold by Wyeth and Amgen to treat rheumatoid arthritis and other conditions; Novartis AG's now-withdrawn irritable bowel drug Zelnorm; and the Nasonex allergy treatment made by ScheringPlough Corp.

PHARMACY SALES   Continued...

<p>A pharmacist in a file photo. REUTERS/Mark Blinch</p>