When it comes to Merck, much of the newspaper coverage continues to be driven by the legal battles concerning Vioxx (rofecoxib)
and its association with increased risk of cardiovascular events. Other coverage that mentioned Merck surrounded the FDA approval
of Gardasil, its vaccine that guards against cervical cancer and genital warts caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). State
proposals that would mandate HPV vaccinations of young girls was the focus of many of these pieces. For example, the Washington Post reported that Virginia Governor Timothy M. Kaine would sign a bill that required shots for all sixth-grade girls unless their
parents object to the inoculation (March 9, 2007).
Safety issues and news of adverse events drove other coverage of companies and brands. GlaxoSmithKline, for example, had 24
mentions, stemming mostly from the risk of heart problems associated with its diabetes blockbuster Avandia (rosiglitazone)—and
Avandia-combination drugs Avandamet (rosiglitazone maleate/metformin) and Avandaryl (rosiglitazone maleate/glimepiride).
Eli Lilly came in a distant third, with 16 mentions. Eleven of these articles stemmed from its antipsychotic medicine Zyprexa
(olanzapine), for the treatment of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Coverage was driven by the link between Zyprexa and
drug-induced diabetes experienced by thousands of patients taking the medication.
Due in part to remnants from Vioxx, Avandia, and Zyprexa, drug safety is once again the number-one issue attracting media
attention. If drug safety is viewed more broadly—the way clinical studies are designed, the way data are reported, and how
those data are reviewed by FDA—the focus on drug safety is even more pronounced (FDA would rank as the subject of 37 articles;
data disclosure, 22; clinical study design, 21). Combined with the 76 times drug safety was identified as an issue, the mentions
serve to reaffirm the importance of the drug safety issue in the eyes of the media—and the public.
Even a comprehensive, well-designed study cannot anticipate all possible negative coverage. In order to address this, pharma
needs to manage the things it can control—particularly clinical study design and data disclosure. This becomes even more evident
when one considers the cases of Vytorin (ezetimbe/simvastatin) and Trasylol (aprontinin).
We also predict that the pendulum will swing back toward more pharma stories. Media coverage may have decreased for pharma
in 2007 because it shifted to Big Oil. The price at the pumps and for home heating has become a more imminent financial crisis
than pharmaceuticals for many people and has, consequently, attracted related media attention. Another reason may be that
2007 was a prequel to the 2008 presidential election. The campaign tended to focus more on the war, economy, and immigration
last year, but the healthcare debate is likely to emerge as key decisions about it will be made leading up to the election.
Examples are the simplification of Medicare Part D and sufficient funding for children's healthcare.
This spectrum of issues reaffirms that healthcare delivery needs to be viewed from the perspective of all its components and
their interconnectedness. This is consistent with PhRMA President Billy Tauzin's view that drugs are only about 10 percent
of the cost of healthcare delivery. Along that line, we believe this year's study identifies some changes and invites a look
at the bigger picture of US healthcare delivery.
To keep pharma in the news—the good kind—industry must continue supporting their patient-assistance programs, as well as efforts
from the Health Sector Assembly, AARP, and Families USA. In doing so, companies can turn the battle toward their favor in
the press—and the court of public opinion.
Stephen J. Porth is a fellow of the Arrupe Center for Business Ethics and a professor at Saint Joseph's University. He can be reached at email@example.com
George P. Sillup is an Arrupe Fellow and an assistant professor at Saint Joseph's University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Megha Chandgothia, Cynthia Slater, Molly Porth, Courtney Scardellette, and Kim Pierret also contributed to this article.