Public service announcements (PSAs) featuring Tyler Walker, a 20-year-old ankylosing spondylitis (AS) patient, direct back pain sufferers to an online test created to help identify undiagnosed AS patients. The test, and published research used to validate the test, was funded by Centocor, Abbott, Amgen and Pfizer.
The PSAs were launched by the Spondylitis Association of America, of which Walker is a member. Toward the end of the spot, which began running on national television last Thursday, Walker instructs viewers to visit BackPainTest.org for a questionnaire that will “assess your chances” of having AS. “Take the test, and take control,” Walker says in the final seconds of the PSA.
According to Diann Peterson, a spokesperson for the Spondylitis Association of America, funds in the form of research grants from pharmaceutical companies were used to “write the manuscript” for a journal article and “validate the medical research” underpinning the online test, through peer-reviewed publication.
On the test site (BackPainTest.org), visitors can follow a link to “Development and Validation of a Case Ascertainment Tool for Ankylosing Spondylitis,” an article published last January in Arthritis Care & Research. The article’s lead author, Michael Weisman, received research grants from Abbott, Centocor and Wyeth (now a part of Pfizer), as well as consultant fees from Amgen/Wyeth, marketers of Enbrel, a blockbuster arthritis biologic treatment. Like Enbrel, Abbott’s Humira and Centocor’s Remicade are also TNF blockers (and blockbusters); all three have an AS indication. Centocor also markets the newer TNF blocker Simponi (golimumab) for AS.
Sponsorship funding for the article appearing in Arthritis Care & Research did not play a role in the “study design, data collection, data analysis and management, or writing of the manuscript,” and publication was not “contingent upon the approval” of sponsors, according to a note at the end of the journal article.
Deborah Dick-Rath, SVP practice leader at Factor TG, said the assessment test makes sense for its pharma sponsors, because “they all have big plays in the pain market,” adding that each company “spends a lot of DTC money for their arthritis drugs…so the [brand] names are out there.” Similar partnerships between competing pharmaceutical companies around disease education have been witnessed before, in categories like diabetes, said Dick-Rath. As an unbranded effort, the impetus is on “starting the conversation” that leads to a discussion in the physician’s office, she said.