Pharma Use Comics, Camps, and College Scholarships, to Woo Kids with Hemophilia | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |

To reach the small, but lucrative hemophilia market, some drug makers have tried an unusual and high-intensity promotional strategy — building lifetime relationships.


Companies start early by giving children toys and comic books. One sponsored summer camps and another offered grants for music and sports classes. Teens have been awarded college scholarships. Young adults and parents were offered jobs to advise families about treatment. In some cases, sales reps have been assigned to individual patients to ensure long-standing use of specific medicines.


Such moves exceed the usual sort of industry promotion aimed at consumers, and, in fact, more closely resemble the tactics used by the pharmaceutical industry to sway physician prescribing, according to a paper published Tuesday in PLOS Medicine. And the authors argued that the web of ties can foster a culture of dependency that may undermine effective decision-making and requires more regulatory oversight.


“This particular community is entirely enmeshed with the pharmaceutical industry,” said coauthor Dr. Adriane Fugh-Berman, who heads PharmedOut, a project that examines the influence drug makers have on the practice of medicine. She noted that companies aggressively pursue these patients because industry research indicates they are very organized, well connected, and savvier than most consumers.


“This is all about buying brand loyalty to expensive drugs that will be used for a lifetime … This is a creepy situation,” she added. “It’s a clear illustration that pharmaceutical companies go after whoever controls market share. And in this case, it’s the patient. But the relationships are so entangled that it can get in the way of a rational assessment of the different therapies. And it flies under the regulatory radar.”


Moreover, the authors argue that the blurred lines extend to patient advocacy groups, some of which are funded, in part, by drug companies. As the authors see it, these close relationships may be used to pressure payers and legislators to cover certain medicines or distort discussion of treatment options, including more research that would compare the effectiveness of the different medicines.