EC to ease prescription drug ad rules

Pharmaceuticals giants including GlaxoSmithKline, Eli Lilly,

Novartis and Astra Zeneca are likely to get the green light to advertise

dozens of prescription drug brands under a relaxation of European

Commission rules being announced this week.

Led by Erkki Liikanen, the Finnish commissioner responsible for the

Directorate General for Enterprise, the EC is tabling a proposal that

would permit drugs firms to promote medications for AIDS, diabetes and

bronchio-pulmonary ailments through their web sites.

It will allow some direct-to-consumer advertising for the drugs for a

five-year trial period under as yet undefined restrictions.

If adopted by member states - a process that could take several years -

the plan would contain some form of opt-in, so that firms could not

distribute unsolicited product information to consumers.

The EC and the pharmaceutical industry emphasised that the decision

would not lead to mass direct-to-consumer US-style advertising.

Richard Ley, a spokesman for the Association of the British

Pharmaceutical Industry, said the group welcomed the shift, but added

that it would have little effect in the UK, where pharmaceutical

companies have more leverage than in much of Europe. "We are the prime

source for information about medicines. We've spent ten to 12 years

developing them," he said.

Brands affected would include diabetes drugs such as Novartis' Starlyx,

asthma brands such as Astra Zeneca's Oxix, and anti-AIDS drugs such as

GSK's Retrovir.

Feature, page 29.


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