Study examines impact of physician promos

In examining the marketing of Novartis' Zelnorm, University of North Carolina researchers found that DTC ads for the irritable bowel syndrome med raised awareness of the condition and prompted over one million people to head to their physician's office for a diagnosis in just the first three months of the campaign. But unfortunately for Novartis, the $122 million spent on DTC ads increased diagnosis of the condition--resulting in 400,000 new diagnosis--but failed to boost prescriptions.

What did work? Direct-to-physician advertising. In 2005, Novartis spent $127 million to market Zelnorm to doctors, News & Observer reports. And although doctor visits for symptoms of IBS and diagnosis of the condition fell back to normal following the ad campaign, prescriptions continued to rise. In fact, every $243 spent on promos to doctors led to a new prescription. Top that off with the fact that patients were supposed to take the $180-per-month Zelnorm med indefinitely--as the drug is intended to control symptoms, not cure them--and you see why the researchers say Novartis' DTP marketing strategy was a "lucrative investment," (as News & Observer puts it).

But there's more to this story. According to researchers, while DTP promos may have been a good thing for Novartis' sales and marketing department, the strategy may have prompted overprescribing and overuse of Zelnorm before the benefits and risks of the med were really evaluated. Approved by the FDA in 2002, Zelnorm was pulled from the market just five years later due to increased cardiovascular risks among patients.

- here's the News & Observer piece
- and more on Zelnorm - Top 10 Drug Warnings and Recalls of 2007