Pharmaceutical promotion continues to have a strong impact on physician prescribing decisions, though most of the effect is on the switching of brands rather than an increase in drugs prescribed, according to newly released data.
ImpactRx, a Mount Laurel, N.J.-based firm that collects drug marketing and prescribing data from a network of 2,859 "high-prescribing" physicians--about two-thirds of whom are in primary care--presented the results at a June 20 conference on the impact of pharmaceutical promotion on physician treatment decisions and released the presentation to the general public today.
According to the research, pharmaceutical companies continue to augment their sales forces even though ImpactRx calls access to physicians a "zero-sum game."
The U.S. pharmaceutical sales force numbered 90,000 at the end of 2002--a 20% increase since 2001, according to Prudential Securities and the Scott-Levin research subsidiary of Quintiles Transnational Corp. This army of sales representatives provided just short of 1 million details to U.S. primary care physicians during the 12 months ended May 2003, ImpactRx estimates, though that represents a decline of about 10% from the previous year.
Prudential Securities, which co-hosted the conference with ImpactRx, estimates that the pharmaceutical industry spends $30 billion, or 24% of its overall budget, on promotion. This compares to just 21% on research and development.
Still, sales reps get in to meet with physicians less than 60% of the time they visit medical offices, according to ImpactRx. The researchers thus say drug companies should pay more attention to increasing the efficiency of their reps.
The data, which includes highly coveted information on the diagnosis linked to each prescription, suggests that sales reps are quite effective when they do reach physicians.
Thanks to a detailing blitz by Forest Laboratories when it launched the antidepressant Lexapro last September, the drug became the most prescribed drug in its class within two months by both primary care physicians and psychiatrists. By May 2003, nearly one-third of all new patients of the physicians in the ImpactRx survey pool started on either a Lexapro prescription or sample.
Bextra, a Cox-II inhibitor from Pfizer, posted gains in market share of new prescriptions dispensed for eight months following its launch in January 2002, ImpactRx finds, but growth in intended total prescriptions leveled off after just six months. ImpactRx calls the intended number of prescriptions a "leading indicator" of the percent of market share a drug will capture.