March 5, 2024


Drug manufacturers are placing salesmanship before science, according to critics cited in Wired magazine. “The dominance of marketing over research has done real damage to company pipelines,” says Jurgen Drews, a former research chief for the pharmaceutical giant Roche. Wired charges that the industry is spending billions on sometimes trivial remedies and copycat drugs, even though fewer drugs are being developed, patents on old drugs are expiring and critical areas of medicine are being ignored.

The drug industry is sailing in rough financial waters at the moment: the 10 largest companies have lost US$130 billion in combined market value over the last two years; there have been a number of scandals over drug safety and controversial sales practices; and 17 drugs have been recalled.

Although pharmaceutical companies deny that research has been compromised by a focus on sales, they spend twice as much on marketing and administration than on research. And a significant proportion of research budgets is spent on clinical trials of already approved drugs. Often trials are done mainly to establish that one drug is better than a rival’s.

Marketing direct to consumers has become much more important for drug companies since 1997 when the US Food and Drug Administration allowed them to advertise their products on television without lengthy descriptions of side-effects. As a result, drugs designed for a narrow band of patients were requested by a much broader audience. “It creates demand where there’s not even disease there,” complains Dr Robert Centor, of the University of Alabama.