Think Tank Hopes FDA Gets Clue on Pharma Web Advertising

Earlier this year the Food and Drug Administration sent letters to pharma companies, accusing them of violating regulations about presenting drug information to consumers in their search ads.

Today, free market think tank Competitive Enterprise Institute released a paper designed to influence the conversation about government regulation of pharma advertising online. In particular, the organization hopes to communicate its ideas and concerns as the FDA plans its 2-day public hearing on the subject.

Calling the upcoming event “a welcome development,” the group warns, “if the FDA’s evolving policy fails to take adequate account of the Internet’s unique ability to present information in novel formats, it could have significant and adverse implications for consumers, Web service providers, and the medical products industry.”

More from the report:

In other industries, the absence of an applicable statutory or regulatory policy generally means that businesses and individuals have the flexibility to innovate. But, when it comes to the FDA’s regulation of drug and device promotion, the absence of clear guidance effectively works as a prohibition on the kinds of innovation that would deliver complete risk and benefit information in ways that take advantage of the Internet’s unique capabilities. It is no surprise then that drug and device manufacturers are still uncertain how to proceed with many new media tools, such as banner ads, sponsored links, email messages to physicians and patients, social media like blogs, Facebook, micro-blogs such as Twitter, or any other form of Internet communication.

The group complains that the FDA fails to recognize the near-universal understanding among Web users that search ads are intended to drive users to a Web site, and are not an end unto themselves.

The agency appears unwilling to recognize that hyperlinks as an integral part of the Internet with which virtually every Internet user is familiar. Indeed, the very purpose of a key word search is to generate sponsored links to those sites where the searcher may find the relevant information he or she needs.

…..It is ironic that FDA’s drug and device promotion policy allows for viewers of a television ad to be directed to a product’s full risk disclosure on a website not directly connected with the TV commercial, but requires sponsored links to contain the risk disclosure on the face of an ad that directly links to the same website. Still, there is some reason to hope that FDA, upon further consideration, might be persuaded to adopt more rational policies for regulation of advertising on the Internet and other new media.

The CEI concludes that, “There is ample room, even under current law, for FDA to apply a more nuanced and flexible approach to the regulation of drug and device promotion on the Internet and other new media.” The group hopes the FDA takes advantage of its upcoming hearings to bring its “1960s approach to prescription drug advertising and promotion into the 21st century.”

Keep an eye on ClickZ News next month for coverage of the FDA hearing.

The hearing will be held on November 12 and 13 in Washington, DC.

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