Earlier this week, the European Commission (EC) at last clarified what information pharma companies are allowed to disseminate to the European public about prescription-only medicines. Although direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) of such medicines is part of everyday life in the US, it is banned in Europe. Historically, there has been no way for companies to convey the benefits of their products, and in recent years this has become problematic as patients take an increased interest in their own health and treatment programmes
The move by the EC this week will somewhat relax the stringent control, but it’s important to differentiate between providing information and full-blown DTCA. For a start, television, radio and general print media will not be allowed and the information will be factual rather than promotional.
Further, only certain information can be conveyed, including information on the label and packaging leaflets, pricing information, clinical trials and instructions for use. The information will have to conform to recognised quality criteria by being unbiased, factually correct and non-misleading, and will also need to be verified by competent authorities prior to use. Companies will be able to disseminate the information on sources such as officially registered websites or printed information that will be made available only when specifically requested by members of the public.
In general, the move has been welcomed by industry stakeholders, including the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA), which believes the approach is constructive and pragmatic. However, the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA), while welcoming the EC announcement, adds that the Internet is a sticking point.
“EPHA agrees that the Internet can be a useful place to provide information, however in the case of medicines information, this should be limited to the Patient Information Leaflet and other medicines safety information. This should be accessed though a portal or database with a single point of entry so as to avoid confusion and the proliferation of misleading information. Unfortunately, this is not the approach chosen by the European Commission which still prefers ‘information’ to be provided by pharmaceutical companies directly on their website,” said a statement from the EPHA.
Another issue with the Internet is that, although the DTCA of prescription-only medicines is banned in Europe, we are exposed to it all the time. I’ve often clicked on a link in Google to be taken to a US website that bombards me with banner advertisements about Alzheimer’s medications. It’s always made me uncomfortable; the first time I was exposed to medicines ‘advertising’ was when I fourteen and began receiving spam emails about Viagra (which, as a teenager, I found vastly amusing). Ever since then, all medicine advertisements have put me in mind of those spam emails. It’s a harsh generalisation, but DTCA is very strange when you’re not used to it!
It’s also not hard to find extensive information about a medicine—either accidentally or simply by clicking on the “I am based in the US” option on global websites.
However, the adoption of the EC proposal, which obliges pharma companies to provide medicines information, will enable Europeans to access this data without having to find a way into a US site, in their own language and without having to be exposed to DTCA.
So is DTCA next on the agenda for Europe? Unlikely. DTCA is perceived rather negatively by both the European public and industry associations alike, and previous attempts to instate it have always been rejected quickly. EFPIA has also made it clear that it does not wish to see information on prescription medicines on television, print mass media or radio.
If you want to look at DTCA from the other side of the fence, then take a look at a related blog on our sister site Pharmaceutical Executive where Pfizer’s CEO argues that DTCA is a fundamental right!
Other recommended articles