Pharmaceutical Companies Spent 19 Times More On Self-Promotion Than Basic Research: Report

Big Pharma Is Basically An Advertising Industry

Big Pharma might be working a lot harder to sell you products than to develop new ones.

Prescription drug companies aren't putting a lot of resources toward new, groundbreaking medication, according to a recent report in BMJ, a medical journal based in London. Instead, it's more profitable for them to simply to create a bunch of products that are only slightly different from drugs already on the market, the reports authors said.

"[P]harmaceutical research and development turns out mostly minor variations on existing drugs," the authors write. "Sales from these drugs generate steady profits throughout the ups and downs of blockbusters coming off patents."

The authors go on to say that for every dollar pharmaceutical companies spend on "basic research," $19 goes toward promotion and marketing.

And apparently it's been working. Drug company revenues climbed more than $200 billion in the years between 1995 and 2010, according to the website MinnPost. Meanwhile, in recent years, more than one in five Americans age 50 and up have had to cut down on their dosages or switch to cheaper generic drugs because the cost of medication is so high.

The BMJ study isn't the first time pharmaceutical companies have been accused of putting their own profits ahead of the health of their customers. Lexchin, a professor at York University's School of Health Policy and Management, was the co-author of another study in 2008 that argued that pharmaceutical companies spend almost twice as much on promotion as they do on research and development.

And last year, an analysis of medical-journal opinion pieces on a certain kind of hormone therapy found that a surprisingly high number of the articles were written by authors who had accepted consulting or speaking fees from hormone manufacturers -- and that these authors, unsurprisingly, tended to come out in favor of the treatment.

Of course, big pharma isn't the only industry to dedicate a huge amount of its resources to advertising. Companies like Proctor & Gamble and Unilever -- which both make hygiene and other personal care products -- are among many corporations that boosted their advertising spending this year, according to The New York Times.

For Big Pharma ad spending may just be the cost of doing successful business. An executive at an advertising industry trade group told Advertising Age that a reduction in pharmaceutical advertising would likely lead to staff cutbacks at drug companies.

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