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Magrini and Font discuss direct to consumer advertising,1 but drug promotion at an earlier stage may have already influenced the views of the public and patients.
Current European legislation on drug promotion makes it difficult to define what promotion by a pharmaceutical company before market authorisation entails. Many drug companies employ marketing companies to promote new drugs. The recent premature promotion of Herceptin for early breast cancer is viewed as exemplary by the industry and to be copied.
Releasing early results from high profile trials at major cancer conferences can gain worldwide publicity. When supported by website press releases to inform the stock market, one sided information is freely available in the market place.
The small patient group “Women Fighting for Herceptin” was supported by a leading marketing company.2 The ensuing national media campaign pushed politicians into supporting the unlicensed use of Herceptin and hence undermined the UK Medicines Act and the role of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE).3 Many healthcare commissioners caved in under the subsequent pressure and agreed early funding.
The drive for pharmaceutical company profits is changing the tactics of information use. Eventually, this is more likely to undermine public trust in the industry than help patients.
Competing interests: JVH advised healthcare commissioners about the funding of unlicensed Herceptin. His complaint about the promotion of Herceptin was upheld.