Pharma Industry Ads Seek to Draw Attention away from Drug Costs

Pharma Industry Ads Seek to Draw Attention away from Drug Costs

No matter how you feel about President Trump, he is right about 1 thing: drug companies are “getting away with murder.” Instead of changing their ways, the pharmaceutical industry is fighting harsh criticism about soaring drug prices with the launch of a major ad campaign which, oddly enough, doesn’t mention drugs. [1]

By not mentioning drugs, the industry’s major lobbying group gets around the topic of unaffordable medications while turning viewers’ attention to the wonders of science, patients, and the heroic work of researchers.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) says it will spend tens of millions of dollars each year on the new ad campaign – money that could go toward reducing the cost of drugs – and will highlight immunotherapies for cancer, personalized medicine, and genomics to target medicines to patients.

At a press event held January 23, PhRMA President Steve Ubl said that the pharmaceutical industry hasn’t done a very good job of telling its “scientific story.” The print, online, and TV ads will do just that, Ubl said, explaining that we’re in a “new era of medicine.”

Redirecting the country’s attention has worked before, but the new ad campaign comes at a time when the affordability of healthcare often dominates headlines, and a question mark is firmly planted behind the Affordable Care Act.

Will people give the industry’s “scientific story” much thought, when so many are struggling to pay for their prescriptions at the pharmacy?

Jeremy Greene, a historian of medicine at Johns Hopkins University who also practices medicine in a community health center in Baltimore, said:

“What does it matter to the average American that there are new and exciting treatments for cancer if there’s no confidence they’ll be able to afford them or access them? When people don’t have insurance, you begin to realize just how much drugs cost at the pharmacy with no insurance.” [2]

Natural Society
Source: CBS News. Image of Martin Shkreli.

But Ubl said there is no better time for the industry to try and bandage its wounded image, and pointed the blame for people’s anger at a handful of aberrant companies that hiked the prices of old drugs. Martin Shkreli, the “pharma bro” former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals who jacked up the price of an old AIDS drug to $750 a pill overnight, also drew Ubl’s ire.

“We want to replace the image of the industry that some have. In short, less hoodie and more lab coats.”

According to industry observers, drug lobbyists are missing the point entirely: people generally feel that the industry is failing them by not making innovative drugs accessible. Ubl said the campaigns will focus on demonstrating the value of drugs – how they save drugs, cut healthcare costs through reduced hospitalizations, and getting workers back on the job, as a few examples.

In other words, the lobby wants to make the public rejoice over advancements in medicine so much it will forget how insanely expensive basic medications are.

The campaign will feature TV ads quoting Dylan Thomas’ poem “Do not go gentle into that good night,” along with images of patients and researchers refusing to give up.

But patients wouldn’t have to fight so hard if they could just pay for their medicines.

Campaign for Sustainable Rx Pricing Executive Director John Rother said:

“No amount of advertising will make hardworking families forget the consequences of their out-of-control drug costs. They feel the impact every time they choose between paying bills, buying groceries, or refilling a medication they need to stay healthy.”


[1] Washington Post

[2] Bloomberg

CBS News