May 15th, 2006

Researchers Call for Ban on Pharma Ads in Medical Journals

By Anne Harding
Reuters Health

Medical journals are too dependent on revenues from drug advertisements, and should stop running them, say the authors of a new PLoS Medicine report.

“In order for the articles in medical journals to be free of advertiser influence, there cannot be continued reliance on pharmaceutical companies as the sole advertisers,” Dr. Adriane Fugh-Berman of the Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington, DC, the study’s lead author, told Reuters Health.

Drug makers see medical journals as a way to reach the “physician as gatekeeper between drug companies and patients,” she and her colleagues note. One study found the industry’s overall return on investment is $5 for every dollar spent on journal ads, they point out. And while physicians often claim not to be influenced by drug ads, Dr. Fugh-Berman and her team write, “advertising has been shown to increase prescriptions for targeted drugs in a dose-related manner.”

Dr. Fugh-Berman and her associates surveyed advertising policies in nine multispecialty medical journals, and found that all but one—PLoS Medicine, which does not take drug ads—stated that advertising should be related to medicine and medical practice.

While none of the publications ban non-drug advertising, the researchers found the great majority of advertisements were for drugs and medical devices. For example, a review of content in the Journal of the American Medical Association for the past 10 years found more than 95% of the advertisements were for pharmaceutical products.

Medical journals also actively solicit drug advertisements, the researchers noted, touting their low prices. For example, The New England Journal of Medicine charges drug advertisers $51 per 1000 readers, compared with $86 to $110 per 1000 readers charged by consumer magazines.

Dr. Fugh-Berman and her team point to a number of instances in which advertising departments of medical journals, and advertisers, exerted influence on medical journals.

The researchers suggest that journals ban drug ads and begin taking advertisements for consumer goods like golf clubs, luxury cars and the like.

“It is disturbing that medical journals appear to have exclusive, largely undeclared arrangements with pharmaceutical companies,” they write. “It could even be argued that it is poor business practice to forego more lucrative advertisements in order to provide cut-rate advertising to manufacturers of drugs and devices.”

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