They analyzed data from IMS and CAM and found that drugmakers spent $57.5 billion on promotional activities in 2004. By comparison, spending on industrial pharmaceutical research and development in the US was $31.5 billion in the same year, according to a report by the National Science Foundation, which included public funding for industrial research.
The types of marketing included free samples, direct-to-consumer drug advertising, meetings between company representatives and doctors to promote products, e-mail promotions and direct mail. The results confirm "the public image of a marketing-driven industry," wrote the authors, Marc-Andre Gagnon and Joel Lexchin of Toronto's York University.
"It is common knowledge that drug companies spend a lot on promotion," Lexchin tells The Canadian Press. "But even I didn't realize that the figure was as high as we estimate it is."
In their analysis, called The Cost of Pushing Pills: A New Estimate of Pharmaceutical Promotion Expenditures in the United States, Gagnon and Lexchin suggest that governments should force the industry "in the direction of more research and less promotion."
"Health Canada and (the FDA) could promote research if they change the criteria for how they approve drugs," says Lexchin. "Then the drug companies would be forced to put their money into more innovative research, and the drugs that would come out of that would not be the ones you need to promote so much."
One wag offered this reaction: "The reality is that firms behave in ways that we provide them incentives to behave," Steve Morgan, an expert on the economics of the pharmaceutical industry at the University of British Columbia, tells the Press. "It's not really their responsibility to change practice as much as it's the responsibility of people who pay for drugs, and in particular doctors who prescribe them and patients who request them.
"It's those persons' responsibilities to change the incentives - to change the way we reward manufacturers and start putting more emphasis on rewarding truly innovative products rather than rewarding products that are just promoted intensively."