FDA cracks down on drug companies’ use of web marketing

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is reminding drug companies that they are required to disclose side effects or risks about their medications in advertising, even banner ads and Facebook “share” buttons. The agency recently required Novartis Pharmaceuticals to take down a Facebook Share button used to promote a cancer-fighting drug, saying it was “incomplete and misleading” and violated advertising disclosure requirements. Novartis removed the widget but says it will continue to discuss the parameters of web advertising and social media marketing with the FDA in order to fully understand the agency’s concerns.

Novartis isn’t the only drug company to delve into web advertising. Last year, FDA’s Division of Drug Marketing, Advertising and Communications sent notices to 14 major pharmaceutical manufacturers informing them that their sponsored link advertisements violated disclosure agreements and did not adequately warn consumers of the drugs’ risks. This prompted Google to produce “FDA Friendly” banner ads, which were used by Bayer to market its blockbuster birth control pill Yaz. The ads’ headlines link to the product’s site, but the text encourages viewers to read the product information including the boxed warning.

Bayer is required to be extra cautious with its advertising of Yaz. The company launched its birth control pill with an advertising campaign that the FDA later said was misleading. The agency accused the company of overstating the drug’s benefits and using busy images to clutter its message on drug risks. Bayer was fined and ordered to run new ads that clearly stated the drug’s risks, which include blood clots, heart attacks, strokes, and gallbladder problems.