Congress probing ads, promotion for anemia drugs

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Another day, another congressional investigation of pharma advertising.

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce wants documents from Amgen and Johnson & Johnson pertaining to the promotion of anemia drugs used in cancer patients.

The documents requested--posted in separate letters to each company on the committee's website--include records relating to DTC advertising, copies of print and television advertisements, contracts with physicians and financial information related to marketing dollars spent.

Both letters cite “disturbing safety issues in connection with a class of drugs known as Erythropoiesis-Stimulating Agents (ESAs), which are designed to prevent the need for blood transfusions in cancer and dialysis patients suffering from anemia.”

The committee, led by chairman John Dingell (D-MI), asked J&J to provide information on Procrit, stating concern that “J&J may have used misleading DTC television and print advertisements…to help fuel excessive and dangerous off-label use of the drug, particularly in connection with unsubstantiated ‘quality of life' claims.”

Amgen has not marketed its anemia products (Epogen and Aranesp) directly to consumers, but the committee asked the company to provide documents related to possible discounts offered to physicians on two other treatments, Neupogen and Neulasta, in return for prescribing Aranesp.  The committee letter suggests that bundling practices have “helped fuel excessive and dangerous off-label use of Aranesp.”

“While Amgen does not believe [drug rebates] have led to inappropriate or excessive off-label use of ESAs, to avoid even the appearance of such concerns, earlier this year, Amgen restructured the rebates of its Aranesp contracts to be based on share of sales rather than sales volume,” says Amgen spokesperson Ashleigh Koss.  “Last year, Amgen voluntarily suspended DTC broad-based media for Neulasta (TV, mass/consumer print).  Amgen continues to provide education to patients through the Internet and highly targeted print advertisements."

In an emailed statement to Bloomberg News, Kassy McGourty, a spokesperson for Ortho Biotech, the unit of J&J that markets Procrit, says, “We have received the letter from the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and will continue to cooperate fully with the committee's request."


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