Processing Magazine

Drug industry pressures FDA over use of online ads

November 12, 2009
The Food and Drug Administration will convene to hear the drug industry''s position on Internet marketing, reports the Associated Press. The agency has agreed to consider developing rules for online advertising after companies complained that the current guidelines for traditional media, which require a detailed list of possible side effects, have left them hamstrung on the Web. A few of the pharmaceutical companies have begun trying to reach patients via social networking sites like Facebook and YouTube. Industry observers say companies have largely steered clear of the Web for fear of running afoul of FDA regulators, who have not defined the rules of operating online. In a public statement announcing the meeting, the FDA acknowledged that, "emerging technologies may require the agency to provide additional guidance." But some worry the FDA''s rule development process cannot keep pace with online innovation. All ads that mention a drug must provide a balanced picture of its risks and benefits. The requirement to disclose risk information demands those long lists of side effects heard during TV and radio spots, as well as the large blocks of small print seen in magazine ads. When drug companies have tried to adapt such ads to the abbreviated language of Google and Yahoo, they''ve run into trouble. In April, the FDA fired off warning letters to Pfizer Inc., GlaxoSmithKline PLC and a dozen other drugmakers for search engine ads that did not mention drug risks. The ads — called sponsored links — appear on the screen margins of sites like Google when users search for certain key words. With a maximum of just 25 words, the links did not include information about potential side effects, making them illegal, according to the FDA.