"[Spending] keeps going up, in part, because it works," says Elizabeth Boehm, a senior analyst with Forrester Research's healthcare and life sciences group. Deep pharma pockets help, too. "When you have a relatively open budget, you can spend more on a product."
Given the industry's historic aversion to knee-jerk reactions, it may be too early to judge the effect, if any, the COX-2 fiasco will have on consumer and professional promotion dollars. Pfizer's Celebrex (celecoxib) and Bextra (valdecoxib) and Merck's Vioxx (rofecoxib) were three of the top 10 products in US professional promotional spending in 2004, according to IMS Health. Overall, COX-2 inhibitors were the third-leading therapeutic class in professional spend dollars. However, Boehm predicts the COX-2 shakeup will have little effect on promotional spend levels overall.
Following several years of sluggish growth, journal ad spending grew 11 percent between 2003 and 2004, according to Kathleen Henderson, senior vice president and general manager of PERQ/HCI. Much of this growth, she says, was fueled by ads for psychotherapeutics (antidepressants), neurological products (anti-migraine, Alzheimer's therapies) and cardiovascular (cholesterol-reducing) drugs. Spending in allergy journals fell 46 percent as several popular allergy medications switched to OTC status. But this bump in journal ad spending, warns Henderson, doesn't necessarily mean professional journals showed a period of healthy ad growth across the board. (See "Reaching Healthcare Professionals" )
Henderson notes this is a change from the early-to-mid nineties, when many new cardiovascular products were advertised to primary care doctors as well as to specialists.
From the company perspective, Henderson says, Pfizer has already scaled back its journal ad spending in first quarter of 2005, compared to the same time period in 2004, putting Forest in the lead. "Pfizer needs to save some money and deal with some legal issues," Henderson says.