It’s tough to watch TV more than a few minutes without seeing an ad or two for drugs. We’ve always had advertising for over-the-counter meds. Prescription drug ads are more recent.
Advertising a drug like Viagra on TV makes sense. There are tens of millions potential patients. But there are also ads on for niche products.
I started thinking about this when ads started popping up for the treatment of “Non-24.” This is a sleep disorder that only affects the totally blind. It seemed like a very small audience for a big TV ad budget.
Though Vanda Pharmaceutical’s ad never mentions their product and only offers information on this condition it’s obvious they’re trying to steer sufferers toward their drug, Hetlioz.
Individuals affected by the disorder, which is known as non-24-hour-sleep-wake disorder, often have difficulty maintaining a sleep schedule. Patients can expect to pay a lofty price for the breakthrough medicine, however, which costs about $60,000 annually. Hetlioz was developed by Vanda Pharmaceuticals Inc. – The CheatSheet.com
Oh, that’s why it’s on TV!
Hetlioz is a controversial drug not without its detractors who worry it’s a cure in search of a disease. After writing in TheStreet.com about clinical trials, Adam Feuerstein notes:
Vanda doesn’t present data on nighttime total sleep, even though this information was collected for all patients. Instead, Vanda only discloses sleep time for 25 percent of nights when sleep times were lowest (the worst quartile.)
This suggests there was no discernible difference in nighttime total sleep between those blind patients deemed to have non-24 and blind patients with a normal circadian rhythm. If there was a significant difference, why not disclose? Vanda doesn’t, even though nighttime total sleep is the primary endpoint of the phase III study.
Again around $60,000 per year!
It’s not the only one. A commercial just ran for Opdivo, a cancer drug. It is now being prescribed in combination with Yervoy. Both drugs are manufactured by Bristol-Meyers Squibb.
The cost for the initial 12-week phase of the combination is about $141,000, and then $12,500 a month for Opdivo alone, totaling roughly $256,000 if a patient stays on therapy for a year, according to a Bristol-Myers spokeswoman. Subsequent full-year costs of therapy would be about $150,000 for Opdivo alone.
These drugs do extend life.
The median time from start of treatment until disease progression or death—also known as progression-free survival—was 8.9 months among those receiving the combination, versus 4.7 months in the Yervoy-alone group.
The big question is cost. Why does this drug… why do so many drugs… cost so much?
I’d be less upset if there wasn’t all this advertising. Is running TV ads for drugs like these the right way to promote them, or is this just a way to gouge more people?