Chris Viehbacher, PhRMA’s Chairman, Masters the Art of "Proofiness"

I just started reading the book "Proofiness: The Dark Arts of Mathematical Deception" by Charles Seife. The book promises to "conduct a thorough investigation into why so many of us find it so easy to believe things that are patently ridiculous. Why, for example, does anyone take seriously the idea that some vaccines can cause autism..."

I only read the first few pages of the introduction last night, but immediately realized that what I learn from it will help me interpret the BS I often hear from pharmaceutical marketers and spokespeople.

The author defines "proofiness" as "the art of using bogus mathematical arguments to prove something that you know in your heart is true -- even when it is not." One tool used by masters of this art is fabricated statistics, which Seife calls Potemkin numbers in analogy to Potemkin villages (fake settlements purportedly erected at the direction of Russian minister Grigory Potemkin to fool Empress Catherine II during her visit to Crimea in 1787; see here).

I didn't have to go out hunting for examples of Potemkin numbers in pharmaland -- it came right to me via a tweet from @PhRMApress: "VIDEO: What Gets PhRMA’s Chairman Up Every Morning? http://t.co/MftWTiSA via @PhRMA @SanofiUS"

The first words spoken by Chris Viehbacher, PhRMA’s chairman and the CEO of Sanofi, included an impressive Potemkin number:
"One of the things that makes me most proud to be part of this industry is seeing that life expectancy has gone from 67 to 81 in a generation. It really shows the positive impact we've had on people and families across America."
A life expectancy of 81 years?! In my heart, I wish it were true, but my brain tells me it is not.

I immediately stopped the video and used Google to peak behind the facade of these numbers. After all, an increase in life expectancy of 14 years in a single generation is so positive sounding that I want to believe it, but so huge that I suspected it wasn't true.

Here's a US life expectancy chart (edited to fit better) I found via Google (World Bank data; here):

According to these data, the US life expectancy (LE) increased only about 5 years in the last generation (1979 to 2009). I don't think US LE increased an additional 3 years since 2009 (the latest year for which real data is available). Viehbacher used Potemkin numbers to impress us with a 14-year difference, whereas the real data only supports a 5-year difference.

Bullshit Meter: HIGHWhere did Viehbacher come up with his LE numbers? Perhaps he got the 81 years figure from this CNN article, which cited it as the highest life expectancy -- enjoyed by residents of Fairfax County, Virginia.

That same article, however, mentioned that Holmes County, Mississippi, had the lowest LE number -- 66 years. A woman in Holmes County can expect to live 73.5 years, "the average life span that women in the healthiest nations had in 1957 and have since far surpassed." In other words, there are people in the U.S. who have LE's that lag behind those of the world's healthiest nations, "in some cases by 50 years or more." Those numbers should keep Mr. Viehbacher awake ALL night!

The other problem relating to the LE issue raised by Viehbacher is his implication that the pharmaceutical industry is solely responsible for the increase in US LE (except in Mississippi, that is), which is an exaggeration. Other factors include declines in cigarette smoking. increase access to health care for vulnerable populations (eg, children), etc.

The rest of the interview has Viehbacher citing other numbers that support Medicare Part D -- such as each patient receiving a $1200 benefit as a result of the program, which BTW the drug industry does not want to improve by subsidizing the closing of the infamous "doughnut" hole. The study (see here) was paid for by PhRMA, a fact that Viehbacher failed to mention. Whether or not these Medicare Part D numbers are "Potemkin numbers" or other forms of suspicious "proofiness" is something I don't have the resources to get into now. Maybe after I finish Seife's book I will have more anti-deception tools at my disposal.


Christian Clymer, Deputy Vice President, Public Affairs, PhRMA, sent me the following followup to this post via email on 28-SEP-2011:
It's good to know you're keeping up with The Catalyst. I just wanted to clarify some of the statistics you've pointed out, regarding life expectancy and the savings generated by Medicare.

The 81 years life expectancy cited by Mr. Viehbacher is consistent with CDC/U.S. Census Bureau statistics for 2010 that show average life expectancy of 81 years for women (81.4 years, to be exact). (source: http://www.data360.org/dsg.aspx?Data_Set_Group_Id=195) In 1950 the average life expectancy in the U.S. according to CDC was 68 years. That's a dramatic rise in just two generations. The CDC numbers are also reflected in this chart… http://www.phrma.org/us-life-expectancy-1950-2007.  
While all reputable data sources (e.g., WHO, CDC and others) may vary somewhat on the numbers, they all demonstrate the same fact: there has been a marked increase in average life expectancy in the U.S. and across the globe. Our industry wouldn't presume to take credit for these statistics, but we are proud of the role that we continue to play in helping people live longer, healthier lives, as we've noted on PhRMA.org in the past. (New Medicines Transforming Patient Care http://www.phrma.org/new-medicines-transforming-patient-care)  
Regarding the Medicare savings, Mr. Viehbacher was referring to a recent study in JAMA, conducted by Harvard researchers with no sponsorship from PhRMA or individual companies. Indeed, that study found that Medicare saved $1,200 annually for each beneficiary who had previously lacked comprehensive drug coverage prior to Part D. Those savings came from a reduction in non-drug costs such as hospitalizations and nursing home admissions. (http://www.phrma.org/catalyst/jama-study-reiterates-success-medicare-part-d and http://theincidentaleconomist.com/wordpress/part-d-cost-offsets/)    
Just thought you'd want to know.
I hope Chris doesn't mind me adding this response, which I sent to him in reply:
I would point out that Viehbacher mentioned ONE generation ("a generation"), not two, which may have been just an honest mistake, I'm sure. Of course, white females live about 5 years longer than us guys! So, you're not really comparing apples to apples (ie, females to females) when you cite 81 for females in 2010 and 68 for the general population (I assume) in 1950. As for the JAMA Medicare study, I'll have to take a look at it.

BI's Famously Unpronounceable Video Lives On!

A day or two after I posted my impression of Boehringer's (BI's) new YouTube video that spoofs efforts to pronounce the company's name through "word of mouth" (WOM) marketing, BI made the video private and unviewable by the general public. BUT, thanks to "crazyparrot1000," the video has been uploaded here. I have also embedded it below:

Last night, I tweeted: "@Boehringer Sorry to see that the parrot video was made private. Was this a project approved high up in BI?" As of yet, I have not received a response to that tweet.

Why did BI decide to block viewing of this video less than 48 hours after it debuted on YouTube? In a tweet, BI said "The vid was made for a test & the period of time was short, so that is why the vid must be made private for now."

Sorry, but I'm not buying that.

I think my followup post (BI Masters the Art of WOM through Its "Parrots," er, Spokespersons) nudged BI into realizing it had made a mistake. In that post, I pointed out that BI was slapped by the PMCPA regarding how it may have dissed the competition via its real-life Word of Mouth "parrots" -- ie, patient advocates, key opinion leaders, and the press. The following image sums it up nicely, IMHO:

I sincerely wish BI gave me a chance to preview this video while I was at a recent pharma eMarketing conference in Lisbon where I first learned that BI was going to launch something big on YouTube the following week. I may have criticized the video for being too sexist (the women are all very well endowed and are referred to as "lovely ladies").

Maybe -- just maybe -- it could have been negative reaction from BI's employees regarding the inappropriateness of buxom lab techs that got BI to remove the video. If so, I think BI should make that known and offer a public apology. What do you think?

Is this BI parrot video sexist & does BI need to apologize publicly?
Yes and BI should apologize
Yes, but no need for BI to apologize
Not sexist and no need for BI to apologize
Not sexist but BI should apologize anyway for wasting money on this

In any case, perhaps the video was not green-lighted by the higher ups in BI, but I bet it was shut down by them!

Lessons Learned
P.S. A lesson learned by BI is that you often cannot take back what you did via social media and YouTube. Despite the attempt of BI to block the viewing of its video, it lives on in the version that was copied and re-uploaded by "crazyparrot1000." BI acknowledged this in a retweet of a tweet notifying them that the video was still on YouTube: "Yes we are! Power of #sm :) RT @xilede: @Boehringer you are aware that the parrots are still around on #youtube, right?"

BI is now backpedaling and claiming the whole thing was sort of a university thesis project: "As @BoehringerUK said, Uni of Mainz is now preparing thesis on vid. Entire prject was trial balloon & now analysis comes! #hcsm"

In previous tweets, however, BI was making a big deal about how this video is ushering in its new emphasis on word of mouth marketing:

"Embarking on a new comms journey, @Boehringer has started to push the idea of WOM. Watch to learn more http://ow.ly/6zD1u #hcmktg #pharma"

"An idea needs to fly and we take this literally. Take a moment & watch our short video on #YouTube http://ow.ly/6Akmu #mtv @raycokes #pharma"

Unfortunately, it seems the idea of this video should NOT have flown!

Will BI, however, try to get YouTube/Google to remove the copy of the video uploaded by "crazyparrot1000?" It's possible. I suggest you copy it ASAP before this happens. One thing I learned at the Lisbon conference is how to do this: Go to site KeepVid.com

The Big C in the Big Apple

I just received this tweet from Fabio Gratton (@skypen), Co-founder & Chief Innovation Officer of Ignite Health: "Have you seen the C in NYC? (disclaimer: client) http://t.co/8CmVJOun?"

No, I didn't "see" the C in NYC, because I haven't been there lately. So I clicked on the link. This lead me to HepC.tv, a YouTube channel sponsored by Vertex Pharmaceuticals, which coincidentally recently received approval for INCIVEK for the treatment of Hepatitis C (aka HepC). I believe Fabio's company was involved in either creating the video and/or the HepC.tv YouTube channel -- but not the Cs themselves (Fabio deals in the purely digital realm).

HepC.tv is featuring the video "Man-on-the-Street: New Yorkers' Reactions to the Big Yellow C." The big Yellow Cs (see image below; looks more "orangish" than yellow to me) appeared in well known locations in NYC starting on September 13, 2011. The video shows people's reactions and what they think the Cs are supposed to represent. One person said "vitamin C," another said "cholesterol," and another said "cauliflower."

Surprisingly, no one said "Cancer!" At least no-one shown in this video. How can that be? The plaque on every big C says "4 million Americans have this disease. 3 million don't even know it." Sounds like cancer to me. Maybe I'm conditioned to think that because I am a fan of the ShowTime series "The Big C," which is about a woman living with cancer. Maybe Fabio et al did not want to promote the show, so they edited out any mention of cancer in the video, which, after all, is part of a campaign designed to "raise awareness among New Yorkers about hepatitis C and provide information on testing."

The Big Yellow C HepC campaign is what I would categorize as "guerrilla marketing," which according to wikipedia is "unexpected and unconventional, potentially interactive, and consumers are targeted in unexpected places." The Big Yellow C HepC campaign is interactive because each C includes a QR code imprinted on it. You have to get up close to it to scan that code and see where it leads you. Where does it lead? Maybe the QR code should have been on the closing screen of the video so us non-New Yorkers (or ex-New Yorkers) can scan it without getting on the A-train to 125th Street! (I'm guessing, however, that the QR code leads to the FindHepC.com web site, which is shown on the last screen.)

I have many questions about this campaign similar to the questions I had about other such campaigns (see "Zyrtec Telephone Pole Ad Campaign: Guerilla or Gorilla Marketing?"). Here are some questions I posted in a comment to the video:
  • Is this sort of thing scaleable? I mean, in how many cities can this be implemented? 
  • Are the C's on tour around the country? What about in rural areas? 
  • How do you measure how effective this is? Via the QR code? 
As you know, I am a big fan of QR codes -- I have three of them on my new business card (see here)! But how many people in NYC have smartphones with a QR code reader app? Do they even know what a QR code is?

In fact, Vertex is planning many live events in the boroughs of NYC and elsewhere to increase the awareness of Hepatitis C and get people to be tested so they can sell oodles of their new treatment.

Another question I have is How did Vertex get permission to put these Cs all over NYC, which is very skittish about possible terrorist attacks? Remember that guerilla marketing campaign in Boston that went awry, causing panic among the public? I guess the Cs look too colorful and friendly to be considered dangerous.

What I am waiting for, however, are the graffiti artists to tell us what THEY think the Big C stands for. Also, we New Yorkers (and ex-New Yorkers) are known to treat anything not bolted down as "found art," available for  taking home to your loft for kitschy display! I'm betting, however, that Vertex doesn't leave these things hanging around 125th Street or Herald Square overnight.

BI Masters the Art of WOM through Its "Parrots," er, Spokespersons

Even Social Media Savvy, Personable, Fun-Loving Boehringer Ingelheim (BI) Can Bring Shame to the Pharmaceutical Industry!

No sooner did I give Boehringer Ingelheim (BI) kudos for its recent humorous and playful YouTube video (see here), than I learned it violated Clauses 2, 9.1, 3.2, 22.1 and 22.2 of the ABPI Code of Practice (see "Promotion of Pradaxa by Boehringer Ingelheim Breached ABPI Code of Practice").

You can read the details yourself in the above link. At the core of the case were stories published in UK newspapers based upon a BI press release. BI also provided reporters with access to paid physicians and patient spokespersons.

The case originated from a complaint by a "general practitioner" filed with the Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority (PMCPA), which oversees the ABPI Code.

The PMCPA "was very concerned about the content of the press release and the briefing material for spokespersons. The [PMCPA] Panel considered that these would in effect encourage members of the public to ask their health professional to prescribe a specific prescription only medicine. The Panel was concerned about the lack of information in a consumer press release relating to side effects."

In the YouTube video mentioned above as well as in a recent tweet, BI said it "believes there are better mktg tools than FB & Twitter." It appears that BI thinks friendly news reporters are among the better tools available to it.

It's amusing that the news articles made some great marketing statements that BI could never make, such as referring to Pradaxa as a "super pill" and a "revolutionary drug." The stories also dissed the competition (warfarin) by referring to it as "rat poison." BI press materials did not refer to warfarin as rat poison and "otherwise made no disparaging remarks about the medicine," said PMCPA, which had no evidence about how warfarin had been described by Boehringer Ingelheim’s spokespersons or at any press conference. Therefore, no breach of the Code was ruled in that regard.

Obviously, what "spokespersons" say falls under "word of mouth" (WOM) marketing, which is what BI says is one of those "better mktg tools than FB & Twitter." As this case demonstrates, it is very hard to prove that pharmaceutical companies are responsible for WOM marketing that violates regulatory and industry rules.

BI's Famously Buxom and Unpronounceable YouTube Video

"In this brave new world there are better marketing tools than Facebook o Twitter," says Ray Cokes (@raycokes), the actor who plays the "new head of marketing" at Boehringer Ingelheim (BI) in a new YouTube video that spoofs efforts to pronounce the company's name through "word of mouth" (WOM) marketing. The agents for this campaign are parrots who are being conditioned from egg to adulthood to correctly pronounce "Boehringer Ingelheim." The parrots are then shipped out to do their WOM thing.

[I accessed the original video is here when I first made this post. A day or day later, however, BI made the video private and unviewable by the general public. In a tweet, BI said "The vid was made for a test & the period of time was short, so that is why the vid must be made private for now." BUT, thanks to crazyParrot, the video has been uploaded here.]

The parrot in the following frame captured from the video is having a problem and says Sauerkraut! instead of Boehringer Ingelheim. Obviously, the bird is distracted by one of the buxom "lovely ladies" that comprise the BI training staff. By the way the bird is staring into the woman's cleavage, it could have said Spaltung! Whatever ... Ray is not happy!

Another lovely lady -- Faith Busch (@faithandcomm), who tweets for the @Boehringer Twitter account -- told me last week during a conference in Lisbon to expect something exciting on YouTube from BI. I guess this is it.

The new video, IMHO, is not as funny -- and maybe not as "famous" -- as the one I found over a year ago (see "How DO You Pronounce 'Boehringer Ingelheim'?" and below).

It turns out that the above video was produced on spec by an agency trying to win BI business by showing off their creativity. I guess it wasn't "new world" enough -- in fact, it has a certain "iron curtain" feel to it compared to the sterile, all-white "new world" feel of WOM!

I'm becoming more and more interested in BI because it is "pushing the envelope outside the boundaries" in social media. See, for example, "Boehringer vs Facebook Social Media Socialism." BI also seems to have a sense of humor.

It's also a "personable" company -- Faith told me that she often runs into Mr. Boehringer (Jr?) in the BI cafeteria and says hello. I can't imagine the CEO of a publicly traded US pharma company eating in the cafeteria with the minions!

I too would like to meet Mr. Boehringer in Ingelheim and say hello. Maybe he'll invite me in to make a presentation to the lovely BI marketing people about what I've learned from observing pharma's social media efforts during the past 5 years.

UPDATE 22 SEPT 2011: No sooner did I give Boehringer Ingelheim (BI) kudos for its recent humorous and playful YouTube video (see above), than I learned it violated Clauses 2, 9.1, 3.2, 22.1 and 22.2 of the ABPI Code of Practice (See "BI Masters the Art of WOM through Its 'Parrots,' er, Spokespersons").

Kevin Nalty Once Again Working Inside Pharma

I have chronicled the career of Kevin Nalty (aka "Nalts") for a number of years (see , for example, "Nalts Talks About His Days at J&J, His ADHD, and His Merck Performance Review").

In 2009, he famously "quit" his position at Merck to become a YouTube comedy star on the basis of the popularity of his fart videos (see "Was Nalty's Fart Video the Straw that Broke Merck's Back or was it Some Other Video?"). He now is back in the pharma fold as Consumer Product Director, Psychiatry Consumer Marketing, at Janssen, a division of Johnson and Johnson.

According to his LinkedIn profile: "Kevin Nalts is the only career marketer who doubles as one of YouTube's most-viewed entertainers. He is formerly an innovation leader at Johnson & Johnson, and product director at Merck. Author of 'Beyond Viral' (Wiley & Sons), Nalty helps companies and causes engage customers in the most visceral form of social media: online video."

It's interesting that Nalty is now able to be open about his "Nalts" YouTube alter ego while employed at a major pharmaceutical company. Since "Nalts" suffers from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), he is probably involved in the marketing of CONCERTA, Janssen's drug for the treatment of ADHD in adults and children. Will Nalty be able to bring some humor into the ADHD field as in his "ADHD Boy" video shown below? Time will tell.


NOTE: The ADHD Boy video includes Adword links to advertising sponsors, one of which is CONCERTA! See if you too can spot the ad, which looks like this:

The add link, www.focusonadhd.com, goes directly to the CONCERTA site (www.concerta.net NOT www.concerta.com).
NOTE: See comments to this post by "Nalts," who explains he is NOT involved in the marketing of CONCERTA. In fact, he claims his ADHD was probably a "misdiagnosis." In any case, he shut down the ads for ADHD Boy to avoid any semblance of conflict of interest. Also, in the opening graphic, the phrase "Not taking drugs is like not drinking water when you are thirsty" is a direct quote from one of Nalts' tongue-in-cheek videos, which may or may not still be available on YouTube. In other words, it's just another "Naltyism" that should not be taken seriously -- much like marketing :-)
Now that Nalty is once again a pharmaceutical company employee, I have added his @Nalts Twitter account to my list of Pharma Twitter Pioneers (see here). Because of his "Farting in Public" YouTube video (here), which to date has garnered close to 13 million views, @Nalts has over 13,000 Twitter followers. This eclipses the number of followers of @Alex__Butler, another Janssen (UK) marketer!

My New Business Card

Orphan Drugs Now "Where the Money Is," Says Willie Sutton's Ghost

When a dumb reporter asked "Willie" Sutton, the famous bank robber, why he robbed banks, he is reported to have said "Because that's where the money is." Duh!

Until a few years ago, if you asked a pharmaceutical company executive why his or her company developed and marketed an "orphan drug" -- ie, a drug for a disorder affecting fewer than 200,000 people in the U.S. -- you would likely have gotten a response such as "because there is an unmet medical need" or something similar.

Today, however, orphan drugs also have the potential to turn into blockbusters; ie, be where pharma's money is at (see "Orphan Drugs are 'Where the Money Is' for Big Pharma" and "New Big Pharma Economies of Scale: Less Patients Needed to Reach Blockbuster Sales").

The U.S. government has been very kind to pharma companies that develop orphan drugs. Under the 1983 Orphan Drug Act of January 1983, orphan drugs get extended marketing exclusivity, tax breaks, expedited approval by FDA, and require fewer patients in clinical trials.

 Now, the U.S. is poised to get even friendlier!

"Recently, a bipartisan group of House members proposed to broaden exemptions for drug makers that pay a fee on sales made to government health insurance programs. And those fees, which are due by Sept. 30, could generate at least $2.3 billion this year, according to Bloomberg News."

This is not exactly what president Obama meant when he said small businesses need incentives to innovate. This is what he meant by big lobbying groups - eg, PhRMA - having too much influence over Congress!

[This post originally appeared in Pharma Marketing Blog
Make sure you are reading the source to get the latest comments.]

Physician Bailout: On Average, Pharma Pays Every US Physician Over $750 Per Year

The pharmaceutical industry has been very generous in making payments to physicians. Last year (2010), for example, a mere dozen pharmaceutical companies paid $760 million to physicians and other health care providers for consulting, speaking, research and expenses, according to ProPublica's "Dollars for Docs" project. ProPublica has taken "translucent" -- ie, difficult to analyze -- data reported by pharmaceutical companies and created a single database that makes comparisons simple (see here).

The database contains information about payments made to about 500,000 doctors. That's about half of ALL doctors in the US (including Peurto Rico). That works out to about $1,520 per doctor (or about $760 per EVERY doctor in the US), on average.

Of course, some doctors were paid MUCH more than this -- eg, pain specialist Gerald M. Sacks raked in $270,825 from Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Lilly and Cephalon in 2010, up from $225,575 in 2009. And some doctors received only $50 for lunch. At least 20 doctors, however, received "meals worth $2000 or more from Pfizer between July 2009 and March of this year," said ProPublica reporter Charles Ornstein.

According to the ProPublica database, Pfizer paid my doctor -- Catherine Spratt-Turner -- $388 for meals and $1,500 for speaking in 2010. This worries me because she wants me to come in and discuss my high cholesterol. Apparently, generic pravastatin is not doing the job and I suspect she wants to switch me to another anti-cholesterol medication. Will she suggest Pfizer's LIPITOR? I'll let you know when I see her. Previously, she was hot to get me on AstraZeneca's CRESTOR, which I resisted because of its published side effects. BTW, Spratt-Turner did NOT get any money from AZ last year.

This is exactly what worries some physicians who receive payments from pharmaceutical companies. As more and more searchable data becomes easily available to the public, they fear that patients will rebel and resist their advice if it appears that payments are influencing that advice. Oh, well! Welcome to the social media age!

The table above shows physician payments made by some pharma companies compared to sales. Surprisingly, Lilly spent about 2 times as much as did Pfizer despite having only about half Pfizer's sales volume. Perhaps Pfizer is more efficient than Lilly in targeting influential physicians? Nah! Viagra sales don't need much physician goosing to prescribe, whereas Lilly's Cialis needs as much help as money can buy. [I suspect, however, from the fees paid to pain docs like Dr Sacks, that Lilly is more concerned with promoting Cymbalta for pain.]

Overall, it appears that pharma companies tend to spread payments among physicians such that there is a more or less direct correlation between the number of physicians in a state and the amount of payments made to physicians in that state (see chart below).

Of course, $760 (or $1,520) per every physician is not going to improve a physician's lifestyle very much (although I am sure YOU and I would be happy to have an extra thou to spend every year!).

No, this money is central to what I call pharma's "prescribing recovery act" designed to grease the drug prescribing economy.

[This post originally appeared in Pharma Marketing Blog
Make sure you are reading the source to get the latest comments.]

How Sales Reps Can Use Tablets to Fool Their Sales Manager Overlords

While reading "How Pfizer Uses Tablet PCs and Click-Stream Data to Track Its Strategy" (see here), I was struck by two thoughts:
  1. Pfizer's use of technology to collect sales analytics seems pretty basic; eg, David Kreutter, a Pfizer VP of US Commercial Operations, revealed a source of "predictive analytics" to be a simple Web log that shows what physicians click on and what they click through to when they visit a product website. But Pfizer doesn't have "any greater data on how those clicks translate into prescription writing."

  2. and

  3. The "real-time" data they get from sales reps using tablet PCs seems pretty easy to falsify. Here's how Kreutter describes it:

    "As they click the screens with their styluses to illustrate points, those clicks are recorded. That’s how we’re able to see things like the order of presentations, the messages within a presentation that were presented, if the physician found it engaging. Representatives synchronize their tablets on a daily basis, and we get a data stream back to our data warehouse. Our customer data master now has all of that click-stream data for each representative and each doctor."

    Maybe I'm being a cynic or not understanding the technology, but what's to prevent a sales rep from doing all the clicking while waiting in the physician's office hallway just to drop off samples?

This sort of thing is probably not new -- no doubt sales reps have falsified paper-based sales call reports as well. But now the amount of data coming in from 4,000 representatives, each seeing "about seven or eight physicians a day," and each detailing "about two to three products in each of those calls," provides a false sense of knowing in detail what's going on. As has been said ever since computers were invented, "garbage in, garbage out."

P.S. I also note that Kreutter only spoke about "tablet PCs" and NOT iPads. I guess Pfizer has not yet progressed to using that technology.

Boehringer Ingelheim and Ashoka Make More Health via Social Media

In preparation for my participation in the panel discussion entitled "Social Media and Professional Marketing…What’s Really Working?" on October 4, 2011, during the PharmaForce conference (see here), I am on the lookout for examples of "what's really working" in the pharma social media realm.

I did warn program director Kristin Paulick that I usually focus on what's NOT working. Kristin, however, noted that what’s not working is just as important as what is working!

Still, I feel compelled to start looking at the glass half full and come up with some examples of successful, useful pharma social media endeavors. The "Making More Health" partnership between Boehringer Ingelheim (BI) and Ashoka Changemakers is a good and timely example (see Ashoka and Boehringer Ingelheim Partner to Promote New Ways of "Making More Health").

“Making More Health brings together two organizations committed to finding innovative people and ideas to help shape the future of the health sector,” said Prof. Dr. Andreas Barner, chairman of the board of managing directors for Boehringer Ingelheim. “Through this partnership we will bring forth meaningful and sustainable solutions that can achieve individual and family well-being in communities around the globe.” 
Ashoka Changemakers "is a global online community that supports everyone’s ability to be a changemaker by inspiring, mentoring, and collaborating with other members of the community at every level of changemaking. Changemakers hosts collaborative online competitions to identify and connect the best social innovators and implementers. Participants compete to surface the most promising solutions, and then collaborate to refine, enrich, and implement them. Changemakers builds on Ashoka’s three-decade history of transforming the citizen sector by building the largest association of leading social entrepreneurs in the world."

Part of the "Making More Health" social media campaign is a competition whereby anyone can submit ideas to improve health. Eligible entries "may target a wide variety of populations throughout the world and include (but are not limited to) those that:
  • Increase access to quality health services and treatment: Innovations may incorporate strategies such as addressing cultural and financial barriers, lack of transportation, decentralized medical resources, and gaps in education and knowledge.
    Solutions may include initiatives for disease prevention and diagnosis, developing healthy lifestyles, or advocacy and awareness programs relevant to any life stage.
  • Empower individuals, families, and communities to address local health issues:Innovations may engage and inform individuals, families, and communities, and allow them to directly participate in the management of their own health. These span a range of solutions from communal patient care initiatives to programs that nurture a culture of health within communities.
  • Target vulnerable and underserved populations: Entries may include those that address conflict and/or post-crisis environments, poverty and development as related to health, mental health, or rural health."
So far, 186 entries have been submitted -- a record number for Changemakers. It shows how a little pharma support in terms of money AND willingness to participate in social media can make a difference.

In fact, today between 3 and 5 PM Eastern US, BI and Changemakers will host #SocEntChat -- "a Twitter-based, real-time discussion about social entrepreneurship that focuses on specific issues, areas, or events. It is designed for current and aspiring social entrepreneurs, funders, media, and supporters to share their ideas, discuss the state of the field, identify the latest innovations, and pinpoint areas requiring more exploration. It is also an open forum for the global public to voice concerns and hopes, and propose ideas of their own!"

I plan to participate.

Of course, many of the innovative ideas submitted to "Making More Health" involve innovations for healthcare delivery in underdeveloped countries. Just yesterday, however, I was reminded that the US healthcare system also needs help. A @Pfizer_News Twitter post noted that "9 million Americans lost their healthcare in the last several years." What is Pfizer doing to help? They urge you to visit the "Pfizer Healthful Answers" website.

Pfizer, however, is not engaging in social media to discuss helpful ideas; they are just offering a "handout;" ie, free or discounted medicines for people who qualify for one of the programs they support.

IMHO, we need to find a way to PREVENT millions of Americans from "losing their healthcare" in the first place! Now, that would be an innovation!

[This post originally appeared in Pharma Marketing Blog
Make sure you are reading the source to get the latest comments.]

DDMAC's Bad Ad Program Catches Pfizer Using Google Style "bAdWords" on Lipitor Web Site

This is rich!

Recall that back in April, 2009, the FDA sent 14 "warning" -- actually notice of violation or NOV -- letters to major pharmaceutical companies citing as violative several short Google Adwords such as this Pfizer sponsored Adword for CADUET (find the screen shot of this as archived by FDA here and the letter FDA sent to Pfizer here):

I called such ads "bAdWords" way back in November, 2006 -- 3 and one-half years BEFORE FDA caught on (see "Lunesta, Google, and 'bAdWords'").

Last week (August 31, 2011), DDMAC sent ANOTHER letter to Pfizer about some Google-style violative "AdWords" it found in the “Online Resources” webpage of the Pfizer, Inc. (Pfizer) website for LIPITOR. One of the ads was for -- wait for it -- CADUET! THAT ad looked like this:

The CADUET link ad above is practically IDENTICAL to the sponsored Google ad, which FDA warned Pfizer about more than 2 years ago!

Either Pfizer's legal/regulatory team has NO organizational memory, or it tried to pull a fast one on FDA.

It should be noted that FDA itself did not catch this. It was submitted to FDA's "Bad Ad" program; a name no doubt inspired by my "bAdword" blog post mentioned above. And it was probably one of those other 14 companies that received letters from the FDA in 2009 that ratted on Pfizer (see "Majority of Bad Ad Complaints Submitted by Pharma 'Representatives' Deemed Worthy of 'Comprehensive Review' by FDA").

[This post originally appeared in Pharma Marketing Blog
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Pharma Walks, Devices Balk When It Comes to FDA User Fees

While brand name drug manufacturers pay about 62% of FDA's $930 million drug review budget, medical device companies only pay about 20% of FDA's $292 million budget allocated to reviewing devices (see "Pharma Pays 62% of FDA's Drug Review Budget").

Are device manufacturers cheap skates?

I don't think so. My guess is that they don't have as many sympathetic people inside FDA as does Big Pharma. Why else would the device industry and its allies have been "especially vocal this year in denouncing what they perceive as the relative length and unpredictability of the FDA's device-approval process"?

Big Pharma on the other hand is suspected to have close ties to DDMAC. Of course, it cannot be proved that FDA plays favorites depending on how much of the bill is paid by the companies it regulates. However, I am keeping tract of two trends:
  1. the rise in PDUFA (the 1992 Prescription Drug User Fee Act) fees (ie, user fees) and 
  2. the number of warning letters FDA sends each year to pharma companies. 
I get the former data straight from the FDA (here) and the latter from EyeOnFDA blog, which monitors warning letters (here, for example). The following chart shows the trends:

It appears that 2010 saw a slight decrease in user fees received by FDA, but this is an early estimate that is sure to be higher in the next report. In fact, the WSJ article cited above indicates that "the Food and Drug Administration has reached an agreement with the brand-name drug industry on a five-year plan that will increase industry fees paid to the agency by about 6%." I'm pretty sure they are talking about a 6% increase EVERY year for the next 5 years. The average yearly increase over the past 12 years has been 16.7%. Hmmm... I guess the FDA expects to be reviewing fewer new drug applications in the coming years than in the past.

P.S. In 1997, only 36% of FDA's drug review budget was paid for by pharma user fees.

Brand(o) Pharma Makes Offer Generic Companies Can't Refuse!

According to the  Federal Trade Commission (FTC), some brand pharmaceutical companies are imitating Marlon Brando's portrayal of the Godfather: They are making offers to potential competitors that they hope can't be refused.

 As reported today in the New York Times (see here) "some drug makers are using an indirect method to delay competition from low-cost generic products by promising not to introduce their own generic versions if a potential competitor delays its entry into the market.

“Instead of saying, ‘Here’s $200 million, go away,’ they’re saying they could penalize them $200 million, but they won’t, so go away,” said Jon Leibowitz, chairman of the FTC.

The FTC issued a final report (attached to this post) on authorized generic drugs that concludes when pharmaceutical companies introduce an authorized generic version of their brand-name drug, it can reduce both retail and wholesale drug prices. The report also found that authorized generics have a substantial effect on the revenues of competing generic firms. Over the longer term, by lowering expected profits for generic competitors, the introduction of an authorized generic could affect a generic drug company’s decision to challenge patents on branded drug products with low sales. However, the report concludes that in spite of this, patent challenges by generic competitors remain robust.

Finally, the report finds that some brand companies may have used agreements not to launch an authorized generic as a way to compensate would-be generic competitors for delaying entry into the market.