Against the recommendation of an independent advisory committee, the Food and Drug Administration approved a new therapy for Alzheimer’s disease earlier this month. The drug, aducanumab, will be sold by Massachusetts-based company Biogen under the name Aduhelm. The drug will be sold at an expected annual cost of $56,000—Per. Patient.
That’s despite the fact that two large clinical trials haven’t demonstrated that it is clinically effective in slowing the decline of Alzheimer’s patients. Which is why the advisory panel said it shouldn’t be approved—that, and side effects. In those trials, 41% of participants had a range of side effects, including painful brain swelling, headaches, and dizziness, while 10% of participants getting the placebo reported these effects. Another, smaller group experienced small brain bleeds. Some Alzheimer’s physicians are blasting the decision because they believe it will give false hope. Which is precisely what Biogen is counting on—that patient hope—with its $56,000 price tag. They’re probably already working on their soft-focused, pastel-colored television ad campaign.
There are just so many things that have to happen to reform how prescription drugs are sold in this country, but one of the low-hanging ones that the Biden administration and/or Congress could and should deal with ASAP is just that—television advertising of prescription drugs. Like, end it. Get those things off our TVs.
All this started in 1997, when the FDA authorized direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising of prescription drugs on television. From 1997 to 2016, DTC prescription drug marketing budgets jumped from $1.3 billion to more than $6 billion—a 361% increase. Advertising works. In 2008, the House Commerce Committee found that every $1,000 spent on a drug ad gained 24 patients for the industry. That doesn’t sound like a great return until you think about how much prescription drugs cost you and your insurance company (which comes back to costing you). More proof that the advertising works: “a 2003 research report found that rates for prescription drugs with ads were almost seven times greater than for those without ads.”