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January 25, 2017

PhRMA launches ad campaign designed to remake industry's image

Daily Briefing

Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) on Monday launched a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign intended to boost the industry's image as it faces criticism over high drug prices from President Trump and others.

Trump slams pharmaceutical industry

Earlier this month, Trump during a press conference said drugmakers "are getting away with murder" in setting high prices for their products.

Trump suggested that the federal government should start negotiating drug prices. Federal law currently bars the government from negotiating prices for drugs covered by Medicare, which spent $325 billion on prescription drugs in 2015.

The industry took a hit following Trump's comments, with the share prices of several pharmaceutical companies declining after the press conference.

In addition, White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Monday said Trump's plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act would include proposals to "ge[t] a hold of the cost of prescription drugs to give more people access to them."

Pharma industry responds with ad campaign

In response to mounting criticism, PhRMA launched the "Go Boldly" campaign, which aims to highlight innovation and scientific breakthroughs and change the public's negative perception of the industry.

PhRMA has pledged to spend tens of millions of dollars on the campaign, which will span television, print, digital, and radio.

PhRMA first developed he campaign before the 2016 presidential election, when the industry expected former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to win and tackle drug pricing issues, Politico Pro reports. However, PhRMA said it did not change the campaign's messaging after Trump's election.

PhRMA President Steve Ubl said the industry has poorly explained its scientific story and designed the campaign to focus on science, patients, and the role researchers play in making life-saving drugs.

"We want to replace the image of the industry that some have," he said. However, he did acknowledge there is room for improvement, saying, "We take the concerns that have been raised by the president very seriously."

Critics say campaign ignores the real issue

Many industry observers and lawmakers have criticized the campaign's focus, Politico Pro reports.

Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), who chairs the House Democratic Caucus' task force on drug pricing, said, "The issue here is not whether drugs have some benefits ... The issue is whether pharma is going to be able to kill us with their pricing power or whether we will get transparency and competition." He added, "The campaign is all about defending their pricing power and pushing their product."

Similarly, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said, "This is [PhRMA] trying to change the subject and to try and divert people's attention away from drug pricing. Continuing to ignore drug pricing is probably not going to work."

Separately, Ameet Sarpatwari, a drug pricing policy researcher at Harvard University, said, "It's really a matter of being tone deaf in terms of thinking somehow that this is going to change public perception" (Hellman, The Hill, 1/23; Gibson, Reuters, 1/23; Johnson, "Wonkblog," Washington Post, 1/23; Karlin-Smith, Politico Pro, 1/23 [subscription required]; Bean, Becker's Hospital Review, 1/24).

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