PharmedOut Study Calls Out Marketing Strategies Directed to Hemophilia Patients

Margarida Azevedo, MSc avatar

by Margarida Azevedo, MSc |

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Researchers from the PharmedOut project at Georgetown University Medical Center analyzed how pharmaceuticals market directly to people with hemophilia and found that, while strategies are effective, further regulation and studies are necessary.

The study, “Direct-to-consumer Marketing to People with Hemophilia,” was published in the PLOS Medicine Policy Forum. 

PharmedOut involves doctors, researchers, students and other volunteers from Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMD) in Wash. D.C., in educating health care professionals about pharmaceutical marketing practices and in promoting evidence-based prescribing.

PharmedOut’s study authors included the program’s director Dr. Adriane Fugh-Berman; and former interns Dr. Philip Kucab, now a resident at Detroit Medical Center; and Dr. Katelyn Dow Stepanyan, now a resident at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA).

According to the study, marketing begins at summer camps when hemophilia patients are very young. Outreach can include school scholarships, internships, awards and career counseling.  For adults with the disease, the marketing continues through consumer gifts, grants or even careers.

The researchers claim the strategies are effective because: “[People with hemophilia] often make their own decisions about what product they use, which is acknowledged by factor manufacturers.” Marketing happens freely because hemophilia treatment options, prophylactic regimens and optimal strategies are not yet fully defined.

Often, the patient’s physician plays a key role in marketing strategies.  They can become spokespeople for manufacturers via recruitment through the pharmaceutical industry.

To demonstrate associated costs, authors compared sales values from the best-selling drug, Lipitor (a statin used to treat high cholesterol) to hemophilia products. They found that in 2011, the international market for hemophilia products was worth $8.5 billion compared to $12.5 billion for Lipitor. Fugh-Berman claims that the comparison is startling because only nearly 500,000 people worldwide have hemophilia compared to several million who use Lipitor.

“We know companies focus promotional efforts on people with hemophilia because patients specifically tell their physicians which products they want to use,” Fugh-Berman explains. “This one-on-one marketing is extraordinary and has never before has been documented. These companies make a great deal of money from their clients, and spend millions on individual promotion to foster brand loyalty.”

In conclusion, the study suggests that federal agencies demand comparative research studies evaluating the benefits of, and differences of, all regimens and blood agents for hemophilia (which differ vastly in price.)

Additionally the authors call for regulators to review and monitor how pharmaceutical companies directly interact with, and market to consumers.