LOS ANGELES: Members of the Prescription Access Litigation Process (PAL), a watchdog group for drug pricing issues, have sued AstraZeneca over the way it promoted heartburn drug Nexium.
The lawsuit contends that the drug company's promotional and advertising campaigns misled patients into taking a more expensive prescription drug rather than "nearly identical" over-the-counter Prilosec.
"Many of the consumers paid a premium price when they would have done just as well with the cheaper drug," said PAL director Alex Sugerman-Brozan.
Three PAL members - the AFL-CIO, Congress of California Seniors, and California Alliance for Retired Americans ? and law firm Hagens Berman filed the suit last week in the US Superior Court in Los Angeles.
Michelle Meeker, manager of corporate external affairs for AstraZeneca, noted that the drug company is working with the media as needed, but hasn't planned a PR response.
"There are clear differences with Nexium," Meeker said. "It's been demonstrating more efficacy." She added, "This data supports the advertising."
Sugerman-Brozan noted that the PAL hopes to change the way drug companies are dealing with patent losses.
He also said that the difference between Prilosec, which lost patent protection in 2001, and the so-called next-generation purple pill is "small."
"Many companies are taking advantage of the patent system," he said. "We would rather see the pharmaceutical industry put their resources into research for the next innovative product."
Jack Angel, the former director of the Coalition for Healthcare Communication, noted that the lawsuit is not likely to spark changes in the industry.
"The patent laws are the patent laws," he said. "These companies are lucky if they get seven or eight years to ... get a reasonable return. Unfortunately, pricing is the only alternative."
He added that drug advertising and promotion is already the most regulated and scrutinized.
Seattle-based agency Firmani and Associates is handling media relations around the suit, according to Mark Firmani, president and CEO.
The agency, the AOR for both the PAL and Hagens Berman, began working with reporters even before the suit was filed. Court documents and an FAQ have also been posted to the Hagens Berman website to generate "public discussion," Firmani noted.