Bare shelves in docs' sample closets as pharma overhauls sales

No question that doctors have been on the front lines of Big Pharma's shifting sales strategies. Their complaints that too many reps knocked on their doors--and then their no-reps-allowed and appointment-only policies--helped inspire sweeping layoffs. (Of course the cost savings didn't hurt, but that's another story.) Their use of new technologies has some companies pushing online detailing, writing iPad and iPhone apps, and so on.

Now, doctors may be rejoicing at the less-is-more approach to sales calls, but there's one change they're not necessarily happy about. As market researcher Cegedim Strategic Data reports, physicians' sample closets have shelves that are increasingly bare.

Pharma spending on drug samples has dropped by 25% since 2007, Cegedim says (as reported by American Medical News). Last year, drugmakers shelled out $6.3 billion in drug samples, compared with nearly $8.4 billion in 2007. And the number of times reps arrive with samples has fallen even more--by 35%, to 76 million.

The decline in sampling isn't simply an effect of fewer rep visits, though that is one contributing factor. For instance, conflict-of-interest concerns prompted some clinics and academic medical centers to either turn away samples altogether or accept them only in a centralized location, away from individual doctors' hands.

But perhaps the most important development is the demise of the mass-market blockbuster. When primary-care drugs like Lipitor and Plavix were at their height, reps delivered samples galore. Now, those big drugs are either off patent or soon to be, so spending on samples doesn't make sense. Most new drugs hitting the market are specialty meds, prescribed by specialists, making widespread sampling unnecessary. Plus, newly inaugurated meds for cancer and rare diseases are so expensive that sampling is a non-starter.

So, as Big Pharma bids adieu to the megablockbuster era, doctors may be saying goodbye to regular delivery of drug samples, too.

- read the AMed News story

​Related Articles:
The tough life of a pharma sales rep
Pharma sales execs: Current model is broken; changes are coming
Big Pharma overhauls its marketing methods