AIDS activists say the drugmaker's magazine ads in the US are nothing more than thinly disguised attempts to scare patients away from trying new drug regimens,The Wall Street Journal reports.
Bob Huff, antiretroviral project director at Treatment Action Group, an advocacy group in New York, tells the paper he complained to Glaxo a few months ago about an ad that shows shark-infested waters with the message: "Don't take a chance - stick with the HIV medicine that's working for you." Huff calls the ad offensive and aimed at instilling fear in patients. The ads, by the way, carry Glaxo's logo but don't promote specific drugs.
In another ad in Poz, a monthly magazine for AIDS patients, Glaxo promotes its protease inhibitor Lexiva and advises patients to ask their doctor, "Will the HIV medicine make my skin or eyes turn yellow?" Other protease inhibitors have been associated with that side effect, the Journal writes.
The AIDS Healthcare Foundation, a nonprofit group in Los Angeles that provides health care to HIV patients, tells the paper it sent a letter last month to the Department of Health and Human Services complaining about Glaxo's advertisements, but hasn't yet received a response. A spokesman for HHS tells the paper department hadn't received the letter.
The ads are part of a larger trend of drugmakers taking aim at rival HIV drugs, hinting at side effects and other drawbacks, the Journal writes. But while such comparison ads are common elsewhere, drugmakers typically sold HIV drugs with images of hope and by explaining the benefits of their treatments. The tough new tack has some patient groups unsettled, saying it could scare off patients, the paper writes.
Glaxo says the ads are "educational" and appropriate. "While we acknowledge that some people may find the headline and imagery of the materials to be provocative, GSK stands firmly behind the ads and their underlying message: Patients considering changing HIV therapy ought to consult closely with their physician to fully understand the near and potential long-term health implications of such changes," Marc Meachem, a Glaxo spokesman, e-mails the Journal.
Among other controversial campaigns, a recent print ad from Bristol-Myers Squibb shows an image of a toilet and says, "Ask your doctor if there are HIV medications with a low risk of diarrhea." That is a side effect associated with Abbott Lab's Kaletra, while Bristol-Myers' antiviral drug Reyataz isn't commonly associated with diarrhea. Brian Henry, a Bristol-Myers spokesman, tells the Journal that the ad is appropriate. Abbott spokeswoman Melissa Brotz says that "Kaletra has a well-established side-effect profile and profound and sustained effectiveness in combating HIV."