MPT WWW
Selected news articles which highlight important policy issues.

News: Weekly Archives

News for the week of 01-18-2007

Second Drop in Cancer Deaths Could Point to a Trend, Researchers Say
The New York Times, 1-18-07

Editor's Notes:

For the second consecutive year, cancer deaths in the U.S. declined, outpacing both population growth and aging. Experts attributed much of the decline to better detection and treatment of cancer, particularly for "colorectal, breast, and prostate cancers."

From 2003 to 2004, cancer deaths fell by 3,014, considerably more than the previous year's decline, 369. (These are the latest years for which figures are available.) Although the drop is notable, it still pales in comparison with the number of cancer deaths, 553,888 in 2004. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States, after heart disease.

By far the greatest decreases in mortality have been in colorectal cancer—1,110 fewer deaths in men, 1,094 fewer in women. Dr. Elizabeth Ward, a managing director in epidemiology and surveillance at the cancer society, said the most important factor in the decrease was screening for colorectal cancer, which can detect the disease early when it is most treatable, or even prevent it entirely by finding precancerous polyps, which can be removed before they turn malignant. Progress has been significant even though only about half the adults who should be screened have been. If more people were screened, there would be even steeper declines in death and the incidence of the disease...

Improved treatment has also played a part in lowering the death rate from colorectal cancer, Dr. Neugut said. "There was a revolution in treatment between 1998 and 2000, and revolution is a mild word... We went from having one drug to having six or seven good drugs. The cure and survival rates have increased dramatically as a result. The cost of care has also gone up, but you get what you pay for."

[permanent link]

Area drug firms go to war over vaccine
The Philadelphia Inquirer, 1-18-07

Editor's Notes:

Over the past several years, drugmakers have increasingly embraced the idea of head–to–head studies between competing products in the hopes of gaining an edge in price or formulary position with insurers. For the first time, vaccine manufacturers seem to be embracing the idea, with GSK announcing that it would sponsor a trial pitting its new cervical cancer vaccine against a rival formulation made by Merck.

GlaxoSmithKline P.L.C. said yesterday that it would sponsor an unusual clinical trial of two cancer vaccines directly against each other to see which works better—Gardasil, made by Merck & Co. Inc., or its own experimental vaccine Cervarix, which is expected to hit the market this year.

It is the kind of expensive, high–risk comparison that companies undertake only if forced to by regulators or only for a high–profit prescription drug—not for a vaccine. At stake is a share of the projected $2 billion to $4 billion revenue from human papillomavirus, or HPV, vaccines by 2009.

GlaxoSmithKline's rare head–to–head test, if successful for Cervarix, may revive its prospects, which analysts had begun to put behind Merck's. And it will resonate in Philadelphia as a high–stakes crosstown—make that cross–suburb—rivalry. London–based GlaxoSmithKline will direct its 17–month trial from its clinical–research offices in King of Prussia, a 15–minute drive from Merck's facilities in West Point, where the Gardasil campaign is run.

"I cannot think of another trial like this," said Arthur Allen, author of Vaccine, a new book on vaccine histories. "In the old days, they would just throw vaccines on the market and see if they stuck."

GlaxoSmithKline said its goal was to prove that Cervarix would protect more women against more strains of the cancer–causing virus for longer than Merck's product, which was launched last year. Its trial will involve 1,042 U.S. women, ages 18 to 45, who will each get shots over six months—either Gardasil or Cervarix, they will not be told which. Then they will be monitored for cervical lesions, blood changes and safety, with results released at 12 months and 17 months. Researchers will determine which vaccine is associated with higher immune response in the blood.

Public and private insurers will certainly benefit from GSK's study, provided that one of the vaccines is actually shown to be head and shoulders above its rival. Of course, GSK can't rule out the possibility that their study will wind up benefiting Merck. A similar scenario played out a couple of years ago, when Merck pitted its statin drug, Zocor, against Pfizer's Lipitor.

[permanent link]

Analysis: Prescription drug ads leave out risks, alternatives; Consumers urged to be skeptical
USA Today, 1-20-07

Editor's Notes:

Prescription drug advertising is increasingly seen as a necessary evil at best, and more often than not as downright deceptive and dishonest. USA Today picks up this theme from researchers who have conducted a study of direct–to–consumer drug advertising, and who are highly critical of the ads:

An analysis of television commercials for prescription drugs found that few mentioned risk factors or non–drug treatments for the conditions they target, scientists reported Monday.

The researchers recorded commercials that aired in prime time on ABC, CBS, NBC or Fox from June 30 to July 27, 2004. They ended up with 38 unique ads representing seven of the 10 top-selling prescription drugs of 2004, they write in the Annals of Family Medicine.

"All of the ads... contained elements that we considered problematic," says lead author Dominick Frosch, assistant professor of medicine at the University of California–Los Angeles. "I think consumers should be more skeptical of the pharmaceutical ads than some surveys find they are."

Among flaws identified by Frosch and his collaborators:

  • Only a quarter of the ads mentioned causes or risk factors for the condition treated by the drug.
  • None of the commercials mentioned lifestyle changes as an alternative to medication (for example, diet and exercise to lower cholesterol), although about a fifth mentioned such changes as an adjunct to medication.
  • Only a quarter of the commercials mentioned how common or uncommon the treated disease is.
  • Most of the commercials were unrealistic in portraying medication's role in achieving health. The ads showed people who regained complete control of their lives after taking the advertised drug.

"Certainly, they leave a lot to be desired in terms of providing useful educational information to consumers," says Frosch, a health psychologist.

The researchers seem to have created a straw man and then proceed to thrash him soundly. Exactly how many risk factors, adverse events, and alternative treatments—including competitor's products, diet, exercise, and perhaps meditation—do the researchers think that any company could include in a 30 second or 60 second commercial?

And, we should also note, all advertising is, by definition, aspirational–it makes things look better than they really are. But consumers are well aware of the dust and magic surrounding advertisements, and discount them accordingly. Consumers may look more kindly on drug advertising than the researchers prefer, but that does not make the ads deceptive.

Having said that, drug advertising is held to strict standards, and prescription drugs are among the most highly regulated products in the world. Furthermore, prescription drugs are not available without consulting a doctor and obtaining a doctor’s consent that you do, in fact, have the condition alluded to in the aforementioned advertising and would benefit from the suggested course of treatment. In short, direct to consumer advertising—while not without its flaws—is still heads and shoulders above advertising used by other industries.

The real question we should ask is not whether DTC advertising is perfect, but whether it improves consumer welfare by bringing consumers to seek treatment for important health conditions. And there is plenty of evidence that it does just that.

Perhaps some generics would be better choices for selected ailments than some brand name drugs. Perhaps exercise or diet would be better alternatives than prescription drugs at all. But, then again, companies that offer such options are entirely free to advertise their own products and services.

[permanent link]



Project FDA.

2007-06-11
2007-06-07
2007-05-28
2007-05-23
2007-04-26
2007-04-18
2007-04-13
2007-04-05
2007-03-30
2007-03-12
2007-03-08
2007-03-01
2007-02-21
2007-02-14
2007-01-31
2007-01-28
2007-01-18
2007-01-11
2007-01-02
2006-12-29
2006-12-20
2006-12-12
2006-12-04
2006-11-27
2006-11-26
2006-11-13
2006-11-06
2006-11-01
2006-10-24
2006-10-19
2006-10-10
2006-10-06
2006-09-25
2006-09-23
2006-09-13
2006-08-30
2006-08-23
2006-08-14
2006-08-10
2006-08-03
2006-07-26
2006-07-18
2006-07-10
2006-07-06
2006-06-30
2006-06-22
2006-06-15
2006-06-08
2006-06-02
2006-05-23
2006-05-19
2006-05-08
2006-05-01
2006-04-19
2006-04-12
2006-02-14
2006-02-09
2006-02-01
2006-01-24
2006-01-19
2006-01-10
2006-01-04
2005-12-29
2005-12-21
2005-12-13
2005-12-06
2005-11-30
2005-11-22
2005-11-17
2005-11-09
2005-11-02
2005-10-26
2005-10-19
2005-10-12
2005-10-05
2005-09-28
2005-09-21
2005-09-14
2005-09-05
2005-08-29
2005-08-23
2005-08-16
2005-08-09
2005-08-04
2005-07-27
2005-07-20
2005-07-11
2005-07-06
2005-07-01
2005-06-13
2005-06-09
2005-06-05
2005-05-25
2005-05-18
2005-05-10
2005-05-02
2005-04-27
2005-04-20
2005-04-11
2005-04-05
2005-03-30
2005-03-21
2005-03-18
2005-03-08
2005-03-01
2005-02-23
2005-02-14
2005-02-07
2005-01-31
2005-01-24
2005-01-17
2005-01-10
2005-01-04
2004-12-31
2004-12-21
2004-12-13
2004-12-06
2004-11-29
2004-11-22
2004-11-15
2004-11-10
2004-11-01
2004-10-28
2004-10-19
2004-10-11
2004-10-05
2004-09-29
2004-09-21
2004-09-15
2004-09-08
2004-08-30
2004-08-25
2004-08-16
2004-08-09
2004-08-03
2004-07-26
2004-07-19
2004-07-12
2004-07-05
2004-06-29
2004-06-21
2004-06-14
2004-06-08
2004-06-01
2004-05-24
2004-05-17
2004-05-10
2004-05-02
0206-12-04
0000-00-00

  
home   spotlight   commentary   research   events   news   about   contact   links   archives
Copyright Manhattan Institute for Policy Research
52 Vanderbilt Avenue
New York, NY 10017
(212) 599-7000
mpt@manhattan-institute.org