The first international “Selling Sickness” Conference held October 7-8 in Amsterdam drew some 200 participants from around the globe to discuss the issues and trends in marketing of prescription drugs. While most attendees were from Europe, all regions of the world were represented at the event. Slide shows of the presentations, along with a list of attendees, may be viewed on the conference website.
Many of conference presentations focused on the phenomena and techniques of promotion of “disease mongering”: use of pharma promotions to depict normal life issues as diseases and to encourage consumers to visit doctors to seek prescriptions to treat these disorders. My poster displayed at the conference focused on a different facet of inappropriate drug promotion, the equally problematic practice of misleading promotion of a very useful new drug for genuine and deadly diseases. The poster Glivec in Global Perspective, covers highlights of the worldwide promotions for the breakthrough cancer drug Glivec, done for a different purpose. Since Glivec is quite effective for most patients for whom it is indicated, its manufacturer Novartis has used promotions to aim to secure both its excessive global price and monopoly patent status for the drug.
Novartis, a relatively new company on the scene, formed from the merger of Ciba-Geigy and Sandoz in 1996, has invested heavily in patient relationship marketing to further its goals. Influencing patient groups by all the well-known techniques used to woo doctors to prescribe certain medicines–along with patient-specific types of outreach–has been used to induce enthusiastic lobbying for Glivec, and ostensibly to keep patients from recognizing and protesting the real cause behind access problems for this drug, its exorbitant price. Novartis has not hesitated to approach cancer groups, and to help create new ones, through emotional manipulation of the genuine despair linked to the diseases and the experiences of patients with health systems. Yet most patients continue to seem to be unaware of what is really going on, showing the power of the promotions. This poster was created as an educational resource on drug promotion as a critical public health issue. While no health system, insurer, government, or individual has unlimited resources, the vast majority of patient groups lobbying for access to Glivec, along with other costly drugs, act as if cost were irrelevant. Unless things change, access to this and other important medicines is only going to get worse. Those of us with both personal and professional experience in this realm can play an important role in spreading the sunshine on this vital topic. Supporting information and references were too lengthy to include in the poster, so have been organized as a separate document.