The debate over rights and wrongs of advertising pharmaceuticals in the USA has taken an interesting turn after Hank McKinnell, Pfizer’s chief executive, gave his backing to a proposed bill that would give the US Food and Drug Administration the right to review the whole notion of drug ads.

Speaking to the press, Mr McKinnell noted that while Pfizer wants to abide by the rules set out by the FDA on advertising: “Sometimes, we get it wrong,” he said. However, he added: “We certainly can submit everything before we run it. And if they don’t like it, they ought to tell us before we run it, rather than after.”

This last remark seemed to be a veiled reference to the case last year when the agency asked the company to withdraw two TV advertisements for its blockbuster erectile dysfunction drug Viagra (sildenafil) [[16/11/04c]]. He added: “There’s generally a recognition that we’re making some people pretty mad by some of the direct-to-consumer advertising. Making your customers mad is not, generally, a good strategy.”

The debate over direct-to-consumer advertising has been running since the FDA said that it is looking new guidelines with regards to the practice [[13/05/04g]]. The Boston Globe newspaper reported that in 2004, drug companies submitted 143 proposed TV ads for FDA review, but this was out of a total of 485 shown.

However, Mr McKinnell noted that while he backs a review of all ads by the FDA, he is against another measure that is likely to go before Congress, namely the creation of an independent drug-safety office [[14/03/05e]]. According to the Boston Globe, he said that would create “a giant game of ‘gotcha’ and that’s not what we need.”