HIV/AIDS Groups Express Concern About Potential for New Antiretroviral Advertising To ‘Scare Off’ Patients
The Wall Street Journal on Monday examined a new trend for drugmakers marketing HIV/AIDS treatments to release ads that "tak[e] aim at rival HIV drugs, hinting at side effects and other drawbacks." Drug companies have "traditionally sold" antiretrovirals "with images of hope and by explaining the benefits of their treatments" and the "tough new tack has some patient groups unsettled, saying it could scare off patients," according to the Journal.
A recent GlaxoSmithKline ad shows shark-infested waters with the message: "Don't take a chance -- stick with the HIV medicine that's working for you." According to the Journal, another GSK ad in the monthly magazine Poz promotes the drugmaker's protease inhibitor Lexiva and advises patients to ask their physicians, "Will the HIV medicine make my skin or eyes turn yellow?" Other protease inhibitors have been associated with such a side effect, the Journal reports.
The AIDS Healthcare Foundation sent a letter to HHS last month expressing concerns about GSK's ads. The organization said it has not yet received a response, but a spokesperson for HHS said it has not received the letter. In addition, Bob Huff, antiretroviral project director at Treatment Action Group, said he complained to GSK about the shark-themed ad. Huff said the ad is offensive and intended to create fear among HIV-positive people.
According to GSK, the ads are "educational" and appropriate. Marc Meachem, a spokesperson for the company, said in a statement, "While we acknowledge that some people may find the headline and imagery of the materials to be provocative, GSK stands firmly behind the ads and their underlying message: Patients considering changing HIV therapy ought to consult closely with their physician to fully understand the near and potential long-term health implications of such changes."
Meachem said the ads are "just as likely to encourage a patient to stay with another medicine as it is one of our own, assuming that the medicine is working for a patient and is well-tolerated." Meachem said that he is aware of the concerns regarding the ads, adding that the shark-themed campaign "ends this September, and, as always, we will take all the community feedback we have received into consideration for future campaigns."
A recent print ad from Bristol-Myers Squibb shows an image of a toilet and says, "Ask your doctor if there are HIV medications with a low risk of diarrhea." Diarrhea is a side effect associated with Abbott Laboratories' Kaletra, but not BMS' Reyataz.
BMS spokesperson Brian Henry said the ad is appropriate. Abbott spokesperson Melissa Brotz said, "Kaletra has a well-established side-effect profile and profound and sustained effectiveness in combating HIV."
According to the Journal, part of the push behind the new "sharp-elbows advertising" is that the "market for HIV medicines has grown crowded and companies want to protect their market share." While GSK is one of the world's biggest sellers of antiretrovirals, its medicines are older and its share of the $11 billion global antiretroviral market has dropped from 39% in 2004 to 25% currently.
Regan Hoffman, editor of Poz, said, "Treatments have become so comparable, so [companies] are really trying to split hairs to have a marketing advantage" (Whalen/Wang, Wall Street Journal, 8/25).