Study: Plavix ads boosted prices, not sales

Does pharma's consumer advertising increase sales--or just prices? A new study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that at least for Plavix, the blockbuster blood thinner marketed by Bristol-Myers Squibb and Sanofi-Aventis, a big advertising campaign didn't do much to boost prescriptions. But Plavix prices increased immediately, researchers found.

That's the interpretation. Here are the numbers. Plavix initially was sold without help from an ad campaign. Using Medicaid pharmacy data from 27 states, researchers analyzed sales for the three ad-free years before a 2001 DTC campaign and the four years after. They found that sales didn't increase any faster with the ads' help than they had before the campaign launched.

But Medicaid prices for Plavix rose 12 percent immediately after the $350 million campaign began. The higher prices translated into higher Medicaid spending on the drug as well, costing governments $207 million over the next four years.

Was it a coincidence that the prices rose at the same time the DTC campaign began? The study authors think not. "To recoup the substantial costs of [direct-to-consumer advertising], firms must generate higher revenues through increased sales, higher prices or both," wrote the authors, led by Michael Law of the Centre for Health Services and Policy Research at the University of British Columbia (as quoted by the Los Angeles Times).

- see the post at the LA Times Booster Shots blog
- read the Bloomberg story
- get more from Scientific American