The Whole Truth

September 3rd, 2010 by gelenberg Leave a reply »

It’s been some years since I last gave—or attended—a promotional talk. Or been “detailed” by a pharmaceutical rep.

Yesterday, I walked into a meeting of colleagues. It was noon, and a pharma rep had brought sandwiches and was giving a “spiel,” backed up by two colleagues (at least one presumably monitoring her performance—and the doctors’ responses).

Her company had just come out with a new compound. One of the most popular competitor drugs is about to come off patent, making inexpensive generics available. She enthusiastically pitched her medicine and distributed a reprint of a recent study—featuring her drug, the competitor, and placebo.

Her drug does not cause some of the side effects associated with the competitor as often as the competitor does.  That’s true. To be provocative, I asked in front of the group if that meant more patients completed treatment with her drug, or that there were fewer drop-outs due to adverse reactions. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I don’t have that information. But I can get it and send it to you.” Her companions remained mute.

As she went on extolling the wonders of the new drug, I flipped through the reprint. In fact, the competitor showed a larger effect size, more patients completing the protocol, and fewer drop-outs due to side effects.

She had not lied. Everything she said was true. But she had not told the whole truth. Caveat emptor.

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