The U.S. and New Zealand are the only countries in the world that allow drug companies to advertise directly to consumers. A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) shows just how powerful that opportunity is for Big Pharma.
Direct-to-consumer advertising in the U.S. increased substantially from 2009 to 2013. The study focused on the marketing of testosterone replacement therapies, the biggest selling product being AndroGel manufactured by AbbVie.
Testosterone therapy is intended for men with hypogonadism, a condition in which the body does not produce enough of the male hormone due to defect or disease. It is not intended for men with age-related hypogonadism.
However, drug companies like AbbVie heavily marketed AndroGel to consumers, coining the phrase “Low T,” and encouraging men to ask their doctors if they were candidates for hormone replacement therapy. The products, the ads promised, would help increase sex drive and muscle mass, and even help improve mood.
For the study, researchers found that among 75 designated markets where testosterone products were advertised, there was an increase in testosterone tests and new initiation of therapy as well as initiation of therapy without testing. The highest intensity of testosterone ads was seen in the southeastern U.S., the researchers noted.
As a result, in 2012, sales of AndroGel jumped more than 55 percent, driven largely by the off-label use of the product for so-called Low T. The hormone treatment became AbbVie’s second highest money maker behind its blockbuster rheumatoid arthritis drug Humira.
Beginning in 2013, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began cracking down on manufacturers of testosterone treatments, more notably after studies revealed that use of the drugs were linked to an increased risk of heart attacks, strokes and blood clots, some of which could be fatal.
AbbVie and other testosterone manufacturers face a growing number of lawsuits alleging the companies aggressively marketed the drug directly to consumers for off-label use while failing to warn of potential cardiovascular risks.
Source: BioPharma Dive