Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News
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Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News
Pharmaguy curates and provides insights into selected drug industry news and issues.
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Merck Will Try Belsomra Ads Without Mascots and Focus on Digital Media

Merck Will Try Belsomra Ads Without Mascots and Focus on Digital Media | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |

Belsomra's furry word creatures have officially retired. Merck & Co.'s "sleep" cat and "wake" dog in the insomnia drug's first wave of TV ads are giving way to a new empathy-oriented campaign that builds on sleepless patients' personal frustrations.


In a new TV ad begun last week, a woman turns off her television, shuts the curtains, dims the lights and turns off her phone before lying down to sleep. But one by one, the devices turn themselves back on to keep her awake.


“The original ad served its purpose. We were a very late entrant to the market, and at the time, the team felt we needed to break through,” said Doug Black, U.S. marketing leader for insomnia at Merck. “What we’ve learned since then as we’ve listened to our consumers, is that to reach a broader audience, we needed to find a more empathetic message.”


The original ad did “tremendously well” in launching the brand, he said, but the time had come for a change to the more empathetic and customer-focused message.


Another change is the emphasis on mechanism of action (MOA). In the furry creature words ad, there was a dedicated push to explain the market-differentiating MOA for Belsomra versus that of competitors already on the market. Now, Merck is backing off MOA as a focal point, although the marketing does still mention its differences.


Black explained the change to focus on efficacy “because ultimately, for a broader audience, efficacy is the main driver. … If the product doesn’t work the way you want it to, it doesn’t matter what the MOA is.”


The TV ad will run selectively, he noted, with the bulk of Belsomra’s ongoing effort in digital. Thanks to the earlier campaign and market experience since the drug's launch in 2015, the brand team has learned how to craft and optimize its digital media mix to reach potential patients all along their journeys, Black said.


Further Reading:


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Will You Miss Those ED DTC TV Ads When Viagra & Cialis Go Generic? John LaMattina Will

Will You Miss Those ED DTC TV Ads When Viagra & Cialis Go Generic? John LaMattina Will | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |

[LaMattina, a former Pfizer Executive says...] Proprietary drugs have a limited patent life, and each year dozens of big drugs lose patent protection. As a result, generic competition kicks in for these drugs, their prices drop precipitously and the originating companies lose billions of dollars in revenues. But, that’s the nature of this business.


Eric Sagonowsky of FiercePharma recently published an article outlining the top 10 patent losses for 2017. Leading his list is Copaxone, an MS drug with $3.48 billion in sales last year. But right behind Copaxone on the list are two very familiar drugs, Lilly’s Cialis and Pfizer’s Viagra, both billion-dollar sellers in the U.S. Sagonowsky goes on to talk about the impact of generic competition on each company’s bottom line, which will be very substantial.


But he fails to note the resulting societal impact that the loss of exclusivity for these erectile dysfunction (ED) drugs will have. Once generic competition occurs for a brand name drug, companies generally will stop direct-to-consumer advertising (DTC) for its medication. Why promote a brand name drug in the face of generics? You would just help drive sales of the cheaper generic forms. A company’s DTC budget is better spent on drugs that still have exclusivity.


However, the impact on society for the loss of erectile dysfunction TV ads is unappreciated. No longer will fathers have the educational opportunity to answer the inevitable question by their 10-year-old daughters that arises during Sunday NFL games: “Daddy, what’s erectile dysfunction?” The subtle reminders of the importance of good hygiene, now promoted by the Cialis commercials with couples in separate bathtubs, will be lost. And how much will U.S.-UK relations be harmed by not having the attractive British woman laying on a bed talking to her American male friends about the importance of being prepared? Yes, these ads will be missed in many ways.

Pharma Guy's insight:

LaMattina, however, suggests that the animated pink intestine that Crooked Valeant uses to promote its drug for irritable bowel syndrome will still be around for many years. That’s why I included “Bubble Guts” in my gallery of mascots:

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Another Drug Ad Mascot: The Prevacid24 Animated Flame “Lurker”

Another Drug Ad Mascot: The Prevacid24 Animated Flame “Lurker” | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |

There’s a new spokescharacter lurking around for Prevacid24. The animated ball of fire with a mischievous glint in its eye is the Lurker, and it's popping up in TV, digital and trade ads, and promotions for the heartburn-relieving drug.

In the TV ad that launched earlier this month, the character hides in the bushes as two women drink coffee and chat as they eat lunch on a nearby bench. The flame with legs never talks. It just giggles as it chases off one of the women, who didn’t take her heartburn medicine.

“Our Lurker character was developed to communicate the risk of recurrence of frequent heartburn,” a GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare spokeswoman said via email. “We explored several creative options and decided on the Lurker due to its ability to convey the idea in a truly engaging manner.”

Deutsch Inc. created the campaign; the target audience is people with frequent heartburn, which is defined as two or more days per week. GlaxoSmithKline licenses Prevacid from Takeda Pharmaceuticals.


See more drug ad mascots here...

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Celebrity, Mascot or No, Consumer #Pharma TV Ads Have Little Influence, Survey Says

Celebrity, Mascot or No, Consumer #Pharma TV Ads Have Little Influence, Survey Says | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |

Treato, the single largest source of online consumer insights on healthcare, released their annual survey on consumers' opinions of DTC advertisements. The survey of more than 500 users found that consumers are rarely motivated to take action after seeing an advertisement for a drug on TV. Only seven percent of respondents said they have asked a doctor about a drug after seeing an advertisement about it on TV. This is significantly down from last year's survey in which 21 percent of respondents said that they had asked a doctor about a drug they saw on TV.


The survey also revealed that consumers aren't easily influenced by celebrities in DTC advertisements as 76 percent of respondents said they are no more inclined to pay attention to a drug advertisement even if it features a celebrity. In addition, animated characters seem to have little influence on consumers as 80 percent of respondents said they are no more inclined to pay attention to a drug advertisement if it features an animated character.


"Pharma marketers need to think of more innovative ways to engage directly with health consumers," says Ido Hadari, CEO of Treato. "It's clear that consumers are rarely responsive to the one way communication of TV advertisements."

Pharma Guy's insight:

What! Consumers are not influenced by those cute mascots?! As for celebrities, I always said pharma marketers were wasting money on them. Read, for example, "Your Brand Celebrity Spokespersons Are Worthless!"; 

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DTC Marketers Love to Use Animated Critters: Can You Guess Why?

DTC Marketers Love to Use Animated Critters: Can You Guess Why? | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |
As reported by Ed Silverman/Pharmalot (here), "Over the past few years, more drug makers have run TV [direct-to-consumer, aka DTC] ads featuring cartoon characters or other animation techniques to promote their medicines. But while some may be cute or visually striking, regulators wonder whether these ads interfere with consumer comprehension. So the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) plans to run a study to determine whether these visual tools may distort how consumers perceive the risks and benefits of a medicine, according to a notice posted this week in the Federal Register (here)."

It is “possible that animated characters may lead to lower perceived risk by minimizing or camouflaging side effects,” the FDA wrote, adding there is concern that “entertainment aspects can distract from learning key information.”

I was quoted in Silverman's piece:
“I think we are seeing more of these animated ads,” said John Mack, who publishes Pharma Marketing News. “The companies believe the ads can make the products or message friendlier or more appealing. And animation can be used to counteract the unappealing nature of the medication or the side effects that are listed.”

But I also mentioned another reason why I think pharma marketers use these characters. More...

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Two DTC Ad Mascots Make it to the Super Bowl. Both are Losers!

Two DTC Ad Mascots Make it to the Super Bowl. Both are Losers! | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |

Not to be left on the sidelines, several pharma companies took to the airwaves Sunday for the biggest ad show of the year, also known as the Super Bowl. With one of the largest consumer audiences on TV, dozens of advertisers jockey to get their messages in the game, this year at an estimated $5 million per 30 seconds.

Valeant Pharmaceuticals ($VRX) nabbed two spots, one for its IBS-D fighter Xifaxan and another for anti-fungal cream Jublia. It was the second year in a row that Jublia appeared in the big game.

Meanwhile, AstraZeneca ($AZN) ran an unbranded :60 spot addressing opioid-induced constipation, encouraging people to talk to their doctors "and ask about prescription treatment options." The ad included a callout to the website, where users who click on the prescription option button are taken to the home page for Movantik, AZ's OIC branded treatment.

All three ads tanked in USA Today's annual viewer poll and came in at the very bottom of the list of its 63 consumer-ranked ads: AZ's OIC was No. 60, Xifaxan was No. 62 and Jublia came in dead last at No. 63. 

NPR dubbed the three as the "worst reference to bodily functions" in its Monday morning assessment of the Super Bowl ads with its puzzled critic writing: "The Super Bowl is known for inspiring lots of eating and lavish spreads of food. So why would advertisers pay millions to air ads focusing on constipation, irritable bowel syndrome and toe fungus?"

Pharma Guy's insight:

See the gallery of mascots here:

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"Ethnically Ambiguous" Man in His 30’s/40’s Sought for #Pharma Print Ad

"Ethnically Ambiguous" Man in His 30’s/40’s Sought for #Pharma Print Ad | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |
Middle aged man, average to heavy build.

Seeking 10 models total for a pharmaceutical print ad. Six will be cast as background pharma professionals and four as featured parent and child pairs.

Principal talent pays (Parent and child pairs): $1,500+20% agency fee Background talent pays: $500+20% agency fee.

Principal talent: Male, ages 28-45, Hispanic, Asian, South Asian, Native American, Middle Eastern, Southeast Asian / Pacific Islander, Ethnically Ambiguous / Mixed Race

Pharma Guy's insight:

What about the DTC advertising mascots? What do they get paid? See the gallery of mascots here: 

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Is Better Ad Creative on the #Pharma Horizon? Geez! I Hope So!

Is Better Ad Creative on the #Pharma Horizon? Geez! I Hope So! | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |

In 2014, the swagger-filled advertising confab Cannes Lion International Festival of Creativity added Health Lion awards for the first time for pharma, and health and wellness. The first year, pharma didn't fare well. But in this second year, U.K. pharma AstraZeneca's  took the top prize--a Grand Prix (don't ask, it's France)--for its humorous "Take It From a Fish" digital campaign promoting the importance of triglycerides.

Fancy award shows aside, there is an ongoing belief that creativity in pharma is uninspired and formulaic at best, and "embarrassing" at worst (according to small agency CEO Marc Brownstein writing in Advertising Age a few years ago).

Healthcare and pharma ad agencies have been talking about it for some time, of course, but they're also doing more to change, such as hiring creatives from "outside" the industry to offer fresh perspective. They're also readjusting their thinking, or as one executive noted, "taking a good hard look at themselves."

Nick Colucci, CEO of Publicis Healthcare Group, told Ad Age in an interview after the Cannes awards this year: "We've got to make [the creative] even better. We learned something last year and I do think we applied it this year to some of the work, in raising our quality of work or the edginess in which we'd push things."

Pharma Guy's insight:

Talking fish are not creative IMHO. Seems the only way ad agencies can be creative in drug ads is to depend on "mascots." See my gallery of drug ad mascots: 

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Pharmaguy's Gallery of Drug Advertising Mascots

These are my all-time favorite Drug “mascots” (I call them critters) seen in direct-to consumer ads.
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Meet Wally, Rapaflo's Prostate Mascot. Looks a Lot Like a Walnut!

Meet Wally, Rapaflo's Prostate Mascot. Looks a Lot Like a Walnut! | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |

In May, 2015,  FDA's OPDP sent an Notice of Violation letter to Actavis regarding the "Unsubstantiated Claim" on the Rapaflo webpage, which stated “BPH SYMPTOM RELIEF THAT WORKS NIGHTS SO HE CAN WORK DAYS.”

Since then, Actavis adopted a walnut look-alike prostate gland mascot. That's him in the accompanying image. 

I call him "Wally" because he looks just like a walnut, which I suspect was the model the computer graphic artist used to create Wally. It even includes a little walnut-like point at the top of his head, which may not be medically accurate.

The original Rapaflo website, which the FDA criticized, showed a man walking to the bathroom from his bed in the middle of the night. Now the site features a guy at a urinal confronted by Wally standing on the urinal divider.  Although Wally is not looking down at the guy's junk, he is all in the guy's face, saying "These frequent disruptions are frustrating. I'm your prostate - I know urinary issues when I see them!"

If I were that guy I would say, "Yeah? Well, you're not my prostate! I know walnuts when I see them! Get lost!" I mean, who wants to talk to a Debbie Downer walnut while urinating in a public urinal?

There seems to be a proliferation of drug mascots these days reminiscent of ten years ago or so when drug TV and print ads were full of them (read "DTC Critters to Strike - Cite New Media Residuals as Issue," for example). I know of at least one other mascot associated with urinary function.

Click here for more: 

Pharma Guy's insight:

Actavis should definitely name the mascot Wally and give me a few bucks for the idea! What do you think?

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A Tiny, Trash-Talking "Wrestler" is New Mascot for Novartis Carcinoid Tumor Disease Awareness Campaign

A Tiny, Trash-Talking "Wrestler" is New Mascot for Novartis Carcinoid Tumor Disease Awareness Campaign | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |

Pharma’s newest spokescharacter is a tiny, trash-talking professional wrestler. He’s part of a new disease awareness campaign for carcinoid syndrome from Novartis, created by Klick Health.

The gaudy, spandex-wearing wrestler, like persistent stomach pain and gastrointestinal issues, won’t leave a suffering man alone—punching, kicking and trash-talking him through everyday life. The TV spot, interactive display banners and social media posts direct people to a “What Am I Wrestling With” website that suggests constant sufferers may need to consider a different diagnosis.

The site introduces carcinoid syndrome, a rare condition caused by hormones released by an abnormal growth called a carcinoid tumor. As it notes, carcinoid tumors “are very uncommon and are usually small and slow-growing.” However, the symptoms of carcinoid syndrome include GI issues, such as recurring diarrhea, as well as maladies such as irregular heartbeat, skin flushing and difficult breathing. The site includes a 30-second self-quiz about signs and symptoms.

While the campaign is disease awareness only and doesn’t mention or link to any branded products, Novartis is the maker of Sandostatin LAR, a $1.6 billion seller that's used to treat acromegaly and severe diarrhea and flushing associated with carcinoid syndrome. That drug is facing generic erosion from a slew of companies this year, including Teva, Sun Pharma, Sagent Pharmaceuticals and Wockhardt.

Klick interviewed dozens of people who have the kinds of persistent GI problems the campaign seeks to highlight to check their reaction to the work, from the wrestler TV and banner ads that talk about GI discomfort to a website that raises the possibility of this type of cancer. The agency said it got no negative feedback.

“While it might seem at first blush as a mismatch between tone and the information or the possibility that it ultimately raises, I think we’re bringing more of our own biases or expectations than actually exists in people that are in that dynamic,” Elliot Langerman, chief creative officer at Klick, said in an interview.

Pharma Guy's insight:

I'll have to add him to my "Gallery of Drug Advertising Mascots": 

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Drug DTC TV Ad Actors Also Get Gigs at Medical Conferences

Drug DTC TV Ad Actors Also Get Gigs at Medical Conferences | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |

Ilana Becker can barely go a day without someone asking her, "'You're the girl with the stomach, right?' "


Many actors are known for their signature roles. In Ms. Becker's case, that role is of a dysfunctional digestive system. She plays Irritabelle, that adorably annoying redhead in tights in Arnold Worldwide's campaign for Allergan's Viberzi, a prescription drug to treat IBS-D, or irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhea (read “’Irritabelle,’ The Viberzi Irritable Sidekick”).


In the cottage industry of voice and commercial actors who play diseases and afflicted citizens in healthcare and pharma ads, there are a host of actors who welcome the chance to embrace the quirkiness.


Take, for example, Roger L. Jackson, the voice of Mr. Mucus. Mr. Jackson originated the voice and personality of the wiseguy ball of phlegm back in 2004, when the ads were handled in-house by then-owner Adams Respiratory Therapeutics, which later sold to RB.


The new Mr. Mucus with attitude is housed at McCann New York and voiced by comedian and "Silicon Valley" actor T.J. Miller. His Mr. Mucus is more sardonic hipster than tough-guy gangster, reading "sick tweets" or asking a restaurant patron "Is that a bisque?"


The pharma industry spent $5.6 billion on paid media in 2015, according to Kantar Media. And while it's not the top-spending industry—that would be categories like consumer packaged goods, telecom and automotive—pharma does spend disproportionately on TV advertising. Estimates put pharma TV spending at 60% to 70% of its total outlay.


Paul Guyet, who's been doing voice-over work since 2003, is a pharmaceutical commercial veteran. He's the current voice for Boehringer Ingelheim's heartburn medicine character Captain Zantac, created by independent agency Jomo and animators Aardman Animations, and was also one of the talking grocery store fish in AstraZeneca's "Take It From a Fish" digital video campaign that won a Cannes Grand Prix for the pharma category for Digitas LBi in 2015 (read “Like 3-Day Old Fish, #LionsHealth Grand Prix Prize Stinks!”).


In "Take It From a Fish," Mr. Guyet's piscine character, Sal, who is lying in a bed of ice in a grocery store case with his pal Marty, says that Martin Scorsese called him and wants him to be in his next film. Marty says, "Really, when's that filming?" Sal says in six months. Marty deadpans, "Yeah, don't think you're gonna be available."


Ms. Becker, who also does personal appearances at gastroenterology conferences for Allergan, said, "GI doctors are the best, they have such a great sense of humor. If someone watching is less embarrassed and more encouraged to live out loud, that makes me feel great."

Pharma Guy's insight:

Also see "Gallery of Drug Advertising Mascots";

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"Desperate Turds" Print Ad: How Long Have They Been Trapped in That A-Hole?

"Desperate Turds" Print Ad: How Long Have They Been Trapped in That A-Hole? | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |

Are you constipated? Well, if it's caused by your opioid pain medication, you might need prescription Movantik (read "Cam Newton Was Not the Only One 'Blocked' During Super Bowl 50").But if it's just run of the mill "occasional constipation," you might try an over-the-counter product such as Dulcolax Laxative by Boehringer Ingelheim.

I recently came across a Dulcolax print ad,  which ran in Singapore newspapers and bus shelters and which was on a 2014 shortlist under the outdoor category at Lions Health (read "Pharma Advertising is So Bad It Has No Big Winner at Cannes Lions Health 2014").

Creative advertising people have labeled the ad "Desperate Turds."


Yep! It's a view of turds (Scheisse) trapped inside an A-hole! The tagline -- along with a photo of a Dulcolax Laxative package -- is expressed in a turd's thought balloon: “Only you can set them free”.

As is often the case with OTC drug ads, the "Desperate Turds" ad misrepresents the effectiveness of Dulcolax Laxative to treat occasional constipation. More here...

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Thanks to Cartoon Characters, We Know How Belsomra Works, But It Doesn't Work Well

Thanks to Cartoon Characters, We Know How Belsomra Works, But It Doesn't Work Well | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |

One evening in the late summer of 2015, Lisa Schwartz was watching television at her Vermont home when an ad for a sleeping pill called Belsomra appeared on the screen. Schwartz, a longtime professor at Dartmouth Medical College, usually muted commercials, but she watched this one closely: a 90-second spot featuring a young woman and two slightly cute, slightly creepy fuzzy animals in the shape of the words “sleep” and “wake.”


Schwartz had a reason to be curious about this particular ad. Two years earlier, she had been a member of the advisory panel that reviewed Belsomra for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration—and the process had not gone well for the manufacturer, Merck. The company saw its new drug as a major innovation, emphasizing that the medication acted on an entirely different mechanism within the brain than the previous generation of insomnia medicines like Ambien and Lunesta. During the drug’s development, Merck had suggested that it could treat insomnia more effectively and produce fewer side effects than existing medications. In 2012, one Merck scientist described the science underlying Belsomra as a “sea change.”


But when Schwartz and her colleagues scrutinized data from the company’s own large-scale clinical trials, what they found was a lot less impressive. People taking Belsomra fell asleep, on average, only six minutes sooner than people taking a placebo and stayed asleep for a mere 16 minutes longer. Some test subjects experienced worrying side effects, like next-day drowsiness and temporary paralysis upon waking. For a number of people, these effects were so severe that the researchers halted their driving tests, fearing someone would get into an accident. Because of these safety concerns, the FDA ended up approving the drug at a lower starting dosage than the company had requested—a dosage so low that a Merck scientist admitted it was “ineffective.”


So when Schwartz saw the Belsomra ad, she was struck by how smoothly it sidestepped the drug’s limitations. A soothing voiceover hypes the science, giving a sophisticated explanation of how Belsomra targets a neurotransmitter called orexin to turn down the brain’s “wake messages.” “Only Belsomra works this way,” the voice continues. The ad ends with the young woman curling up with the “sleep” animal and falling into a peaceful slumber. “You have no idea watching that ad that we’re talking about falling asleep 6 minutes faster and staying that way an extra 16 minutes—and that’s at higher doses,” Schwartz said. “We really don't have a great idea of how well it works at the lower dose FDA actually recommends for people starting the medication.”


The first marketing efforts for Belsomra appeared not long after the FDA had approved the medication, in the summer of 2015. Anyone who saw them might not have realized what was being sold, since many didn’t mention Belsomra—or any sleep drug—at all. There was a website,, which focused on sleep science, and a related Twitter feed, which now has more than 60,000 followers. Merck also worked with the nonprofit National Sleep Foundation to develop, a site where people with insomnia talk about their experiences. And there was an iPhone app called SleepGuru, which allowed users to monitor their sleep activity. For pharmaceutical companies, the great advantage of such “unbranded” advertising is that, since the ads don’t make claims about specific drugs, they aren’t legally required to talk about side effects, either.


Like the fuzzy animal commercial, the unbranded campaign for Belsomra told a compelling story about new developments in the field of sleep research. Older insomnia drugs try to induce sleep by making the brain more receptive to chemical signals that make people drowsy. Over the last two decades, scientists have developed an understanding of a separate set of chemical signals that make people alert. The WhySoAwake site gives a cartoonish version of this story, and a link on one page takes visitors to the Belsomra site, which explains that it is the only drug that acts to quiet the wake signals.


In Merck’s last quarterly earnings call for 2015, Adam Schechter, the president for global human health, linked the drug’s sales success directly to these marketing efforts. “With regard to Belsomra, I think we started off with a really good launch and we had nice growth,” he said. “It then flattened a little bit. We ran direct-to-consumer advertising and we saw an increase again in … volume.”


I asked Dominick Frosch, a senior scientist at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation Research Institute who has published widely on how patients make decisions, to review the Belsomra television spot with the fuzzy animals. “The ad promotes a very clear story as to what causes insomnia … that somehow insomnia is a problem of your neurotransmitters,” Frosch said. “They are giving you a very one-sided explanation of what causes insomnia, and of course into that cause fits this particular drug.”


“We all want consumers … to be highly engaged in their health care, and certain advertisements can do that. But it can also lead to a lot of overtreatment,” said David Grande, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania who has written extensively on drug advertising, “It’s not as if we live in an imaginary world where messages in advertising are being driven by what’s important, rather than what makes more money.”


After Belsomra hit the market, Consumer Reports asked Schwartz to create a label for it. Her version presents the data on the drug in an even-handed way, noting that its ability to aid sleep is “modest” at the highest approved doses. “Short track record means that new, unexpected side effects are possible,” it explains. “Since this drug has a different way of acting than other insomnia drugs, the experience with it is particularly limited.” The label gives brief details on alternative remedies for insomnia, like cutting down on caffeine. Finally, it lists Belsomra’s known side effects. Not included on the list but probably warranted: skepticism.

Pharma Guy's insight:

Related: "FDA Approved Untested Dosage of Belsomra, Says Consumer Reports Expert"; and "Big Pharma's Animated Ads & Mascots To Get FDA Scrutiny"; 

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Big Pharma's Animated Ads & Mascots To Get FDA Scrutiny

Big Pharma's Animated Ads & Mascots To Get FDA Scrutiny | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday announced plans to study the use of animation in television commercials for prescription drugs, expressing concern that cartoon characters may muddle messages about benefits and risks.

The FDA cited a cartoon character used for Novartis’ toenail infection drug Lamisil in its notice Tuesday.
In a public notice, the FDA referred to a number of prescription drugs that have used animated advertisements over the years. Despite that history, many questions remain about how viewers process the ads, the notice said.

“To our knowledge, no studies have comprehensively examined how animation affects consumers’ benefit and risk perceptions in drug ads,” FDA officials wrote.

One of the agency’s central concerns is that flashy animation could simultaneously attract attention and distract from important statements that an advertisement tries to communicate.

“Personifying animated characters may interfere with message communication,” the notice stated. “Although personification may increase involvement with the characters in the ad … it may not increase involvement with the message itself.”

Pharma Guy's insight:

Also see: "Gallery of Drug Advertising Mascots"; Find the notice in the Federal Register here: 

Pharma Guy's curator insight, March 28, 2016 8:07 AM

Also see: "Gallery of Drug Advertising Mascots"; Find the notice in the Federal Register here: 

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Cam Newton Was Not the Only One "Blocked" During Super Bowl 50

Cam Newton Was Not the Only One "Blocked" During Super Bowl 50 | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |

If you’re like a plurality of Americans, you spent Sunday night watching the Super Bowl along with its celebrated commercials that technically take up more time than actual game-play. Those ads are incredibly lucrative; CBS–which is airing the game this year–is reportedly charging $5 million for 30 seconds of airtime. And what mega-rich multinational corporation wouldn’t jump at the opportunity? No other traditional television platform allows a company the opportunity to present its product to more than a third of Americans in one fell swoop.

Enter Big Pharma with its latest display of benevolence: A cure for “Opioid-Induced Constipation,” or “OIC” as the advertisement so expertly vanilla-labels the malady.

Yes, it’s a widely-known fact that heroin and its legal opioid prescription cousins can cause a pretty rough case of constipation. And, of course, big Pharma couldn’t be happier to provide you with a solution to the problem it’s created. In fact, it shelled out something like 5 mil to advertise said solution during the Big Game.

The ad (embedded here) looks like your typical big-budget pharmaceutical TV production, featuring a handsome lead, and with a pleasant male voice narrating, “If you need an opioid to manage your chronic pain, you may be so constipated it feels like everyone can go except you. You may have ‘Opioid-Induced Constipation,’ or ‘OIC.'”

Pharma Guy's insight:

The ad does not mention the product name, which is Movbantik. But this animated ad does: "Opioid Baggage"; It features a woman enjoying a day in the park with her Opioid! A screen shot from that ad made into my Gallery of Drug Advertising “Mascots”, which you can find here: 

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Jublia Treatment Costs Thousands of Dollars per Toenail!

Jublia Treatment Costs Thousands of Dollars per Toenail! | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |
The health care system could save millions of dollars on treating toenail fungus by cutting out one test, researchers say. But that means that some people might take medication they didn't need.

The bills can rack up fast when trying to cure toenail fungus, and it's not always easy to know which drug to use. Costs can range from over $2,000 for treating one nail to just $10 for a pill that treats all 10 toes but could have bad side effects. Then there are the costly lab tests to confirm that the curling yellow rot chewing through a toenail is in fact mold.

Right now, the most effective treatment for toenail mold or onychomycosis is a pill called terbinafine. It costs about $10 for a full treatment, which can take up to six months. It's so cheap that it would be more cost-effective to administer the drug to everyone that clinicians think has toenail fungus, rather than spending extra money to confirm the diagnosis in a lab, which can cost up to $148, according to a study published in JAMA Dermatology on Wednesday.

Dermatologists know now that the chance for liver damage from terbinafine is less than 1 in 100,000, and yet the message persists. "I think that 'people' think that terbinafine is dangerous because their primary care doctors and even dermatologists have told them that!" Dr. Matt Kanzler, a dermatologist at Palo Alto Medical Foundation, tells Shots in an email.

Under the influence of this misconception, Kanzler says both physicians and patients elect to use more expensive topical treatments, like a new drug called Jublia that costs thousands of dollars per nail and works about 15 percent of the time. They want to avoid any potential liver injury and malpractice lawsuits. "The problem with this drug is that it isn't 'lifesaving' like cardiac medicine," he says. "As soon as there are articles mention 'you should use this safe topical medicine,' doctors say, 'I am not going to put myself at risk.'"

This is part of the reason why health care is so expensive. Insurance premiums hurt, even for cheap plans. The cost to treat even minor nuisances can skyrocket. Then, a toenail fungus is not just a toenail fungus. It becomes an insatiable cash-scarfing beast latched onto the end of your foot

Pharma Guy's insight:

The Jublia mascot appears in "Pharmaguy's Gallery of Drug Advertising Mascots"; 

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Mr. Mucus is the Most Popular Drug Mascot Online

Mr. Mucus is the Most Popular Drug Mascot Online | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |

Score one for Mr. Mucus. A new study found that the slimy spokes-character helped propel Reckitt Benckiser's family of Mucinex brands to three of the top four slots on a new list of preferred OTC cough-and-cold medicines. Treato, the online data-analysis company, created the list by analyzing findings from more than 5 million patient-written online posts and reviews.

Mucinex D was No. 1, earning 4.6 on Treato's 5-point satisfaction scale, followed by Delsym, which is also a Reckitt brand. Mucinex and Mucinex DM ranked Nos. 3 and 4, with Pfizer's Robitussin DM and Dimetapp brands tied at No. 5.

"Reckitt Benckiser's investment in DTC advertising is clearly paying off as consumers are disproportionately discussing their brands online," says Ido Hadari, CEO of Treato, in a news release.

Pharma Guy's insight:

Ah! The power of drug mascots! See Pharmaguy's Drug Ad Mascot Gallery on Slideshare: 

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Xifaxan TV DTC "Bubble Guts" Character Is Creepy: Another Reason to Ban Ads?

Xifaxan TV DTC "Bubble Guts" Character Is Creepy: Another Reason to Ban Ads? | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |

It's been called a bowel lizard and a walking colon, nicknamed Bubble Guts, and compared to both a dinosaur and Star Wars character Jar Jar Binks. "It" is Valeant Pharmaceuticals' newest spokes-character, the pink and jiggly "Gut Guy" starring in TV ads for its IBS-D treatment, Xifaxan.

But that's not all people are saying. With a significant TV ad push--real-time ad tracker noted more than $20 million since it began in October--Gut Guy has gotten noticed. On Twitter, comments skew negative with words like "disturbing" and "creepy," and one tweeter went further with this comment: "An anthropomorphic digestive tract mascot?! We had a good run, humanity."

However, "Gut Guy" also has his fans. At least half a dozen tweets asked for a character "plushy" or doll, while others expressed fondness or empathy for the "cute" and "cuddly" mascot.

"He reminds me of a balloon animal; he's bouncy when he walks. Personally, I feel sympathetic toward him, like 'poor guy, he doesn't feel very well,'" said Niki Strealy, via email. She is a registered and licensed dietician nutritionist who specialized in gastrointestinal issues and is unabashedly straightforward.

Pharma Guy's insight:

Wow! 6 fans on Twitter! What a success. Want more DTC balloon creature? See: 

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