|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
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.
Area drug firms go to war over vaccine
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.
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.
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 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.
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