Drug industry unveils massive new campaign to counter criticism


Under withering public criticism, the drug industry is doubling down on its arguments that the debate over drug prices is distorted, rolling out a multimillion-dollar ad campaign to repair its reputation and defend the value its medications provide.

The industry’s major lobbying group here, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, unveiled the campaign on Monday. Officials said they would spend in the “high” tens of millions of dollars every year for the next four to five years, rehabilitating their image in the wake of former industry executive Martin Shkreli and the political backlash to rising prices.

“Less hoodie, more lab coats” is how PhRMA President and CEO Stephen Ubl described the advertising campaign in a briefing with reporters. (Shkreli, not missing an opportunity for publicity, responded with a hastily produced website detailing how double-digit price increases are hardly unique to companies outside PhRMA’s membership.)

The campaign, branded “GoBoldly,” sounds like a more aggressive version of the industry’s previous image-making campaign, “From Hopes to Cures.” It will emphasize that biopharmaceutical companies develop breakthrough medications that save lives and that they can be the answer to the problem of health care costs, rather than the cause.

The first television ad being released as part of the new campaign is being called “Do Not Go Gentle.” It blends Dylan Thomas’s famous poem with images of goggled scientists peering through microscopes and patients heading into treatment.

The PR campaign will be paired with a series of events intended to remake the public debate, from one about drug prices to one about medical breakthroughs and the value that novel medications provide by saving costs in the long run. The industry believes its preferred policies — value-based contracts and a modernized Food and Drug Administration — can fix the cost problem better than more direct price controls that drug makers view as their greatest threat.

“We have a great story to tell and we’re going to do a better job telling it,” Ubl said.

That is a promise, though, that industry officials have been making for more than a year. What Monday’s announcement made clear is that they are prepared to spend huge sums of money to fulfill it.

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