Are we being “true”?

Are we being “true”?

According to a story today on the FiercePharma web site direct to consumer ad spending soared past $5 billion in 2015. The story states;

“Pharma spent $5.17 billion on direct-to-consumer advertising last year, according to Nielsen’s calculations, nearing the previous pinnacle of $5.4 billion set in 2006. That’s a 14.9% increase over the $4.5 billion spent in 2014, capping three years of DTC ad gains since a low of $3.4 billion in 2012.”

The story states that three diabetes drugs; Toujeo from Sanofi (NYSE: SNY), Trulicity from Lilly (NYSE: LLY) and Jardiance also from Lilly were among the biggest spenders.

Ironically we also read a story today written by David Mendosa and published on the HealthCentral web site. Entitled “The Financial Burden of Diabetes” David writes;

“One of the newest and most powerful of these medications for people with type 2 diabetes is the class called non-insulin injectables or GLP-1 receptor agonists. They aren’t insulin, which people with type 1 diabetes have to use. You inject one of them like you would if you were on insulin, and the most recent of the medications in this class requires only one injection per week.”

The irony here is that not one, not two but three Trulicity banner/box ad’s appeared with this story. ( Now we have known David for many years and we also know that he has no influence over which ads appear.  However, given that Trulicity is a once-weekly GLP-1 and that David himself has used a GLP-1 in the past we find this even more ironic. Just to be clear according to his current bio it states he is no longer taking any diabetes drugs.

We mention this not because we believe David has done anything nefarious rather the diabetes community appears to be split over the use of celebrity spokespeople. An issue which surfaced when AstraZeneca (NYSE: AZN) announced they had hired Dr. Phil, who is a NOT a medical doctor, to promote their once-weekly GLP-1 Bydureon.

Yesterday Diabetesmine, one of the more popular diabetes blogs posted the following on Facebook;

“What do you think about Dr. Phil being tapped as a spokesperson for AstraZeneca? And thoughts on him being a TV “doctor” and now being a paid medication spokesperson? We are writing about this for a news post on DiabetesMine, so let us know your thoughts. And if you’d be willing to have your thoughts published, please say so. Thanks!”

As we noted last week for our part we are not against the use of Dr. Phil as a pitchman as after examining all the facts we felt that on balance it would do more good than harm. Our general thought was anything that raises patient awareness is a good thing and let’s be honest medical doctor or not Dr. Phil has a big following.

We should also note that we are not surprised or shocked over today’s story posted by HealthCentral as it would not be the first nor will it the last time a web site publishes a story which in reality is just an infomercial paid for by an advertiser. Heck way back in the day way before the internet became the place to be and people still read newspapers and magazines we can recall a favorable article about insulin pump therapy on one page and just by luck there was a full page ad for an insulin pump on the next page.

As always the question here is not whether David or HealthCentral has done anything illegal or even unethical. The question is, do these infomercials and/or celebrity endorsements impact patients. Or put another way does the fact that Dr. Phil endorses Bydureon hurt patients.

The answer isn’t as clear as some may think as on the one hand we have this great thing called the internet where all a patient has to do is Google Bydureon and within seconds can do their own research. (About 226,000 results (0.75 seconds) We also know that since Bydureon requires a prescription that a patient alone cannot walk into a pharmacy and tell the pharmacist that he wants to use Bydureon. This patient must get a prescription from their physician who will presumably discuss the benefits and drawbacks of using Bydureon. But it doesn’t end there as Bydureon, even if it’s ok’d by the physician may not be covered by the patient’s insurance or it might not have favorable formulary position meaning that the patient can use Bydureon provided they are willing to pay more out of pocket. Put simply even if the celebrity endorsement works this by no means guarantees the patient will end up on the drug.

Yet, this same Google search done for Invokana, an SGLT2 from Johnson and Johnson (NYSE: JNJ) and the leading drug in this growing category also shows the dark side of the internet. As right on the top, the fourth item listed is “Invokana Lawsuit Help‎” interesting when one considers that when Jardiance is searched, also an SGLT2, there is no mention of any lawsuits even though it’s in the same class as Invokana. To the lay patient looking for information this can be just a little confusing. And as we have said many times when it comes to the internet any idiot can write a blog, post something on Facebook or use Twitter and many have.

As Momma Kliff used to say information is like a new razor blade, used properly and you get a smooth shave. Used wrongly and you have a face full of nicks and cuts. The reality is in today’s world when information is available in seconds it’s up to the patient to distinguish between what’s reliable and what’s not.

Thankfully when it comes to prescription medications there are as we pointed out earlier a series of checks and balances in place that prevent a patient from making changes without a physician’s input. These infomercials and celebrity endorsements by themselves can only raise awareness and by our way of thinking this is not bad thing.