The medical magazines, Australian Doctor and Medical Observer, have been carrying bright red, full-page advertisements from Pfizer, advising doctors that “patients will soon be asking about their suitability for combination heart medications”.

The advertisement includes a sample from a consumer advertising campaign that advises readers to talk to their doctor about a combination heart pill if they’re taking mubliple medicines for their heart.

The consumer ad incudes a rip-out section to take to the doctor which carries a Pfizer logo and says “I’d like to discuss my treatment for high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Please advise me if a combination heart pill is suitable.”

Croakey readers may remember that earlier this year Michele Kosky, executive director of the Health Consumers’ Council in WA, asked the TGA and Medicines Australia to investigate whether the consumer advertisement breaches the ban on direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription medicines.

In June, Croakey reported back that Kosky had not had any response from the TGA, and that the Medicines Australia code of conduct committee did not consider the advertisement to be promoting a particular product and therefore was not in breach of the code (although this was not a unanimous decision).

It seems worth revisiting the issue, now that Pfizer has started plugging its consumer campaign into its marketing in the medical mags. It doesn’t take much effort to join the dots.

Step 1: Push the consumers into doctors’ surgeries with a reminder to ask about a “combination heart pill”.

Step 2: Back up the consumer advertising campaign with a website like this (with a helpful print out to take to the doctors)

Step 3: Prompt doctors to think of Pfizer when patients start arriving with notes about “a combination heart pill”…

And this doesn’t count as direct-to-consumer advertising???

For the record, Pfizer’s most recent annual review for US shareholders said its combination heart pill, (aka Caduet, aka a combo of its mega-selling cholesterol-lowering drug, Lipitor, and blood pressure pill Norvasc) was worth $589 million in 2008, up four per cent on the previous year.

For those who believe new drugs are all about improving patient care, this article in Pharma Focus explains the strategy behind the development and promotion of combination products like Caduet – as a strategy for defending the impending expiration of Lipitor’s patent in 2011.

Meanwhile, if you want some independent information, here’s the blurb on the combo pill from the National Prescribing Service.

I wonder if Michele Kosky ever heard back from the TGA about her complaint? I will check and let you know…

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