We've been here all along

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Top leaders need top talent

An  AMA House of Delegates survey asked 3,551 physicians if they thought it would be a good idea for docs to have access to computers during examinations and diagnoses. A resounding 58% replied “No”. Before you start culling your mobile-app budgets, I should point out that we ran this story in 1979.

It is just one of hundreds of gems I discovered while trawling through the MM&M archives ahead of our this, our 45th birthday–each story helping to chronicle the magnitude, direction and pace of the various changes our industry has undergone over the past four and a half decades.

Back in 1966, the industry still wore a healthy glow from the golden age, and pharma marketing seemed a lot simpler. There were journal ads and there were detail “men”, and that was pretty much it. Journals, such as Medical World News and Medical Economics were fattened up on all those extra pages of fair balance, as mandated by the Kefauver-Harris Act in 1962, plus the mini-mass journal era was getting underway with the launch of Patient Care. Agencies began rolling out some of the best-known advertising icons, like the Cardizem hard hat, the Rocephin apples, the Zoloft dot and the Hytrin balloon. Medical advertising was the place to be; even Andy Warhol had a stint at Sudler & Hennessey.

Things changed in 1997 when fresh FDA guidance effectively opened the floodgates for broadcast DTC. Schering-Plough's Claritin was the first to take full advantage, with the branded “Blue Skies” campaign in 1997, spending $142 million the following year. Of course, the debate about the pros and cons of DTC had long been raging, and as early as October 1982, MM&M warned: “In the past few years, the patient's influence on prescribers has crescendoed, but it has not yet climaxed.”

Not everyone in the traditional set was against it, however. Medicus cofounder and Hall of Fame inductee Bill Castagnoli felt DTC had a positive effect. “In the old days, people didn't know what medicines they were taking. They trusted the doctor completely. They'd say, ‘I'm taking brown pills.' It was an era of unknowing.”

And so, DTC produced icons of its own, such as Lamisil's Digger, the Zelnorm tummies and the Lunesta butterfly. 

Ditigal's emergence was another game-changer, and in 2006 MM&M reported that for the first time more consumers searched online for drug information than called 800-numbers.

In 2004, Merck's withdrawal of its questionably safe Vioxx brand provided a touch point for public ire against pharma over a number of issues, not least drug prices. Merck had been one of the most admired companies in the US throughout the 1980s and most of the 1990s, but now the media were enjoying putting the boot in on pharma's plummeting image. Thankfully, this episode spawned  a greater responsibility and accountability within the industry.

Pharma is, of course, now under immense pressure from a perfect storm of forces, while grappling with digital technology. It seems unfeasible that, five years, ago nobody was really talking about mobile as being the next big thing in the pages of MM&M

I can point to at least one smart prediction, however. In the “15 on the rise” section of our 40th Anniversary issue we featured Mark Iwicki, a talented Novartis exec whose nominator wrote: “Mark is going to run a drug company one day.” Well, you can read about his new role as head of Sunovion in this month's "Headliner" column.

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