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Doctors raise doubts about J&J drug film

The documentary explores inflammatory diseases, but some experts say the movie may be self-serving.

February 16, 2007|From Reuters

CHICAGO — Johnson & Johnson, one of America's major drug companies, will soon introduce a new genre of advertising in the form of a documentary film about inflammatory diseases, but some health experts say the film may blur the lines between patient education and self-interest.

J&J's big-screen effort, due to premiere in New York this month, comes as critics sharpen their complaints about direct-to-consumer TV ads that play down possible side effects of drugs and drive up healthcare costs.

The 60-minute film, dubbed Innerstate, illustrates the lives of three adults dealing with psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn's disease -- all of whom find relief through advanced and costly drugs such as Johnson & Johnson's Remicade.

Michael Parks, spokesman for J&J's Centocor unit (which makes Remicade) and executive producer of the film, defended the effort.

"This is definitely not a 60-minute infomercial. The intent is really to educate patients in a meaningful way," said Parks, who acknowledges growing skepticism about drug advertising.

He said traditional direct-to-consumer advertising did not provide enough time to cover complex ailments such as Crohn's disease, a chronic bowel inflammation that can be debilitating. The film allows patients to discuss the process they went through before deciding to use advanced therapies.

"Every single patient talks about the exploration -- how they tried other things that didn't work," he said. Parks said the film reflected J&J's move away from brand-specific TV ads, noting that no drugs were mentioned by name in the film.

Although the film has the backing of patient support groups, the idea of a documentary produced by a drug company leaves some doctors wary.

"This is a whole new dimension in direct-to-consumer advertising," said Dr. Jerry Avorn, a Harvard University researcher and author of "Powerful Medicines: The Benefits, Risks and Costs of Prescription Drugs."

"What makes me edgy about it is if it is going to be a commercial, you should know it's a commercial. I'm very troubled by the blurring of the lines between advertising and patient education," Avorn said.

Parks interviewed 40 patients before selecting the three portrayed in the film. He then turned the project over to producer-director Chris Valentino, who incorporated interviews with the patients, their doctors and their families.

The movie will roll out in about a dozen U.S. markets, including Boston, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Chicago.

Marc Freed, an Illinois pediatrician who has seen patients with all three disorders, said J&J might do some good in boosting awareness of the conditions but expressed caution. "They do have an interest in this," he said.

Parks said the film was intended to bolster patient awareness and encourage patients to have informed discussions with their doctors.

J&J's movie push comes at a time of increasing competition in the market for therapies such as Remicade, which is part of a group of drugs that suppress tumor necrosis factor-alpha, a protein that plays a key role in inflammation. The drug costs $18,000 to $21,000 a year.

Other drugs in the class include Amgen Inc.'s Enbrel and Abbott Laboratories Inc.'s Humira. "These are very good drugs, and used correctly, they can make a big impact," Harvard's Avorn said.

"But I'm old-fashioned enough to think whether or not to use a drug like Remicade ought to be the decision of the doctor and not because a patient saw a movie."

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