SEARCH

SEARCH BY CITATION

Keywords:

  • advertising substantiation;
  • Food and Drug Administration;
  • pharmaceutical marketing;
  • PRO claims;
  • quality of life;
  • regulation

ABSTRACT

  1. Top of page
  2. ABSTRACT
  3. Introduction
  4. Advertising Claims
  5. FDA's Regulation of Product Labels and Advertising Claims
  6. Conflict Between Product Labels and Promotional Policy
  7. Implications of Alternative Conceptualizations for Substantiation
  8. Impact of Alternative Substantiation Standards
  9. Conclusion: Developing a Reasonable Policy
  10. References

We review the FDA's policies for the regulation of patient-reported outcome (PRO) claims such as quality of life, productivity, satisfaction and symptom reports and suggest alternative standards for substantiation. We base our review on FDA regulatory activities and public statements in the field of advertising substantiation. We compare these activities to the FDA's label substantiation policies and policies for health-economic (HE) claim substantiation. There is an overt inconsistency between the FDA's policies for substantiation of PRO claims in product labels and substantiation for such claims in advertising materials. This results in a higher standard for PRO claims in promotional vehicles than in product labels. Rather than relying on a “substantial evidence” standard, the FDA should consider a more flexible standard, such as the one currently applied to information included in the Clinical Trials section of product labels, or adopting a “competent and reliable scientific evidence” standard as set forth in Section 114 of the Food and Drug Administration Modernization Act (FDAMA) for HE data. We conclude that there needs to be greater consistency for substantiation in product labels and promotional materials. Furthermore, reconceptualizing most PRO claims as benefit extrapolations as opposed to efficacy information suggests a less rigorous standard is necessary.


Introduction

  1. Top of page
  2. ABSTRACT
  3. Introduction
  4. Advertising Claims
  5. FDA's Regulation of Product Labels and Advertising Claims
  6. Conflict Between Product Labels and Promotional Policy
  7. Implications of Alternative Conceptualizations for Substantiation
  8. Impact of Alternative Substantiation Standards
  9. Conclusion: Developing a Reasonable Policy
  10. References

It is now well recognized that the effects of prescription drugs can be characterized by more than traditional safety and efficacy parameters. Although clinically meaningful end points are needed to understand a drug's usefulness and benefit as a safe and effective therapy, the impact of a drug on a variety of parameters—such as lifestyle, work style, and personal and quality-of-life outcomes—has become an important component for characterizing the effects of a drug. Recently, Burke [1] has characterized and described these types of claims as patient-reported outcome (PRO) claims.

To make PRO claims in advertising and labeling, pharmaceutical companies and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must decide if the claims are truthful, i.e., not false or misleading. This is the standard specified in the Food, Drug and Cosmetic (FD&C) Act that ensures that pharmaceutical products are not misbranded and that the company does not violate the law. As a matter of regulation, the FDA has long maintained that advertising claims must be consistent with the approved product label or sufficiently substantiated by additional data. The nature and extent of these additional data, however, have been a matter of debate.

In papers and presentations, experts in the field of outcomes assessment have suggested a variety of methodological stipulations to assure that rigorous standards are applied to support quality of life and similar claims [2]. In addition, statements by FDA officials in regulatory letters (see below) and in presentations [3] make it clear that the FDA uses rigorous standards for promotional review. Unfortunately, meeting such standards incurs considerable time and expense on behalf of companies attempting to support such promotional efforts.

Further, as with economic claims, one may question “how much” support is actually necessary. If a drug has been demonstrated to be safe and effective on primary efficacy measures that are described in the product's indications, what is the nature and amount of additional evidence needed to demonstrate support for claims that are logically consistent with the clinically meaningful outcomes noted as the product's indications? As discussed below, the FDA's initial response to this question seems to be that considerable evidence is required.

We argue that a more variable standard should be applied to the regulation of PRO claims. This standard should be based on the degree to which PRO claims make representations about new uses for a product or merely generalize established clinical effects into additional areas of functioning. We believe that such a variable standard is consistent with the recent congressional mandate regarding flexible substantiation for health-economic (HE) claims as well as with the FDA's own internal standards for product labels.

This paper is divided into four sections. First, we briefly review various types of advertising claims as a means of characterizing products; second, we discuss the FDA's legal and regulatory approach to reviewing claims, and PRO claims in particular; third, we discuss a conflict between the FDA's approach to regulating claims in product labels and in product promotional vehicles; and fourth, we argue that most PRO claims more aptly represent extrapolations of the drug's benefits rather than new uses for the drug and that these extrapolations should require a lesser standard for substantiation. We discuss two alternative rationales for changing to a more flexible substantiation policy. Finally, we conclude that consistency between product labels and promotional materials is necessary for effective regulation and that future debate regarding the substantiation of PRO claims should include issues such as the benefits of a truthful claim and the costs of developing substantiation.

Advertising Claims

  1. Top of page
  2. ABSTRACT
  3. Introduction
  4. Advertising Claims
  5. FDA's Regulation of Product Labels and Advertising Claims
  6. Conflict Between Product Labels and Promotional Policy
  7. Implications of Alternative Conceptualizations for Substantiation
  8. Impact of Alternative Substantiation Standards
  9. Conclusion: Developing a Reasonable Policy
  10. References

We can characterize descriptions of any product, including pharmaceutical products, in three different ways [4]. First, we can describe products as physical entities. For drugs, the physical dimensions include not only the chemical entity, but also, the intended uses that legally defines the chemical as a pharmaceutical product. Other clinical outcomes such as side effects, precautions, and warnings can also be included in this description. This means that the physical characteristics of a product (e.g., a purple pill) as well as the clinical indications of the product (e.g., treats gastroesophageal reflux disease GERD]) can be characterized as physical claims.

Second, we can describe products in terms of their benefits. For drugs, benefits often correspond to patients’ perceptions of how the drug impacts on their life and functioning. Thus, a drug used to treat GERD may also reduce fear and concern about going to sleep or allow a person to participate more freely in social activities with friends. Many of these benefits may be captured in health-related quality-of-life (HRQL) scales that measure the impact of a disease on a variety of dimensions [5].

PRO claims can be direct extrapolations of a drug's uses and effects without reference to quality-of-life measures per se. In our GERD example, reduction of anxiety associated with sleep and any number of benefit claims could be supported by individual questionnaire items or scale measures, without reference to broader quality-of-life concepts. Other parameters of impact, such as productivity or satisfaction, which measure perceived outcomes with reference to expectations or norms, can be considered PRO claims.

Third, we can describe products in terms of their symbolic characteristics. Even a cursory examination of pharmaceutical advertisements reveals a wide array of symbolism. For example, Aggrenox® (aspirin and dipyridamole), a stroke reducing drug, uses an egg carton to symbolize how it protects against broken parts. Prevacid® (lansoprazole), a proton pump inhibitor used for multiple gastrointestinal conditions, uses a full-service gas pump to symbolize its wide range of uses and therapy options.

The FDA regulates all three types of claims in advertising and labeling. Physical claims that merely state the obvious (e.g., dosage form, regimen) are often considered face valid, without the need for further substantiation. Some extrapolation may be permitted without substantiation (e.g., a once-a-day dosage form may be claimed to be convenient). However, the degree of extrapolation is limited. For example, recently the FDA issued a guidance stating that vague and subjective terminology describing adverse effects (e.g., describing side effects as “well tolerated”) will be considered misleading [6].

FDA's Regulation of Product Labels and Advertising Claims

  1. Top of page
  2. ABSTRACT
  3. Introduction
  4. Advertising Claims
  5. FDA's Regulation of Product Labels and Advertising Claims
  6. Conflict Between Product Labels and Promotional Policy
  7. Implications of Alternative Conceptualizations for Substantiation
  8. Impact of Alternative Substantiation Standards
  9. Conclusion: Developing a Reasonable Policy
  10. References

Under the FD&C Act, the FDA has the responsibility of assuring that product labels and promotional statements are not false or misleading in any particular. Thus, the FDA has the responsibility of assuring that statements made on product labels or in advertising are truthful and that the ads themselves do not mislead readers or listeners. It should be noted that there is a distinction between product labels (i.e., package inserts) and promotional labeling (i.e., written, printed or graphic material that accompanies the product, excluding the product label). Product labels establish the conditions under which a pharmaceutical product may be used safely and effectively. They must be approved by the FDA prior to initial marketing. Promotional labeling and product advertisements are regulated by the FDA as promotional materials and must be submitted to the FDA at the time of their initial dissemination.

While the FDA's responsibility to assure that product labels, promotional labeling and advertisements are truthful, how the FDA should discharge this responsibility or what standards it should use are open to the interpretation. For the most part, the FDA has relied on the product label as the arbiter of truth. The FDA expends enormous efforts ensuring that the product label accurately represents the body of knowledge about a drug when it is approved for marketing. In doing so, the FDA thoroughly reviews manufacturers’ draft labeling which it may rewrite extensively to ensure that it is not false or misleading.

Once the product label is approved, the FDA maintains that advertising claims that are consistent with the product label are be truthful. Marketers do not need to use the precise words in the label and the FDA does not object to advertising claims as long as the advertisement and the label convey the same meaning. Thus, it has been long maintained that companies wishing to make certain advertising claims should attempt to include those claims in their product label. However, product labels are intended to provide necessary prescribing information and have precise content and format specifications. Thus, marketing claims may not be included in product labels for two reasons. First, the claim may not be sufficiently substantiated and therefore not held to be truthful. Second, the claim may be sufficiently substantiated but not included in the product label because it does not provide the type of the information specified in the content and format regulations.

Substantiation

FDA regulations specify the nature and amount of evidence needed to support certain types claims included in product labels. Specifically, claims that describe new uses of a product or claims that contain a drug comparison require substantial evidence. Substantial evidence is further defined as consisting of one or more adequate and well controlled studies on the basis of which qualified experts could conclude that the drug has the purported effects. Usually, substantial evidence is provided by two adequate and well controlled studies. However, recent changes in the efficacy requirement now specify that one adequate and well-controlled study plus corroborating evidence can constitute substantial evidence [7].

For other statements that do not describe the drug's uses or make comparative claims, the nature and extent of substantiation is unclear. Such claims must not be false or misleading and some level of evidence is needed to support them. However, there are no specific regulations guiding the requirements for substantiation. Rather, the FDA has generally relied on the approved product label, whenever possible, to determine the acceptability of promotional claims. The nature and extent of substantiation required depends on whether the product label is relevant, and on the degree to which the FDA deems the supporting evidence to be convincing.

Label Content and Format

Product labels must contain certain information in a specified format (see 21CFR 201.57). There are 11 required sections and 2 optional sections of the label. Most of the specified sections describe a product's risks (e.g., warnings, precautions, and contraindications). It should be noted that the FDA has proposed new content and format requirements for product labels, although these address primarily format issues and do not contain any different substantiation requirements [8].

Information about a product's benefits is likely to be confined to a small number of sections. Product uses are described in the Indications and Uses section. As discussed above, this information must be supported by substantial evidence. Additional parameters pertaining to the clinical effects of a drug may be described in one of the optional sections entitled Clinical Studies. The Clinical Studies section of medication labels is reserved for additional information that conveys a fuller and more understandable presentation of the product's uses and effects. Information in this section must be based upon the outcome of at least one adequate and well-controlled study.

Thus, information presented in the Indications and Uses section of the product label must be supported by substantial evidence (usually more than a single study) while information presented in the Clinical Studies section can be derived from a single study, albeit an adequate and well-controlled study. It should be noted that theoretically there can be considerable variance in the characteristics of an adequate and well-controlled study. The FDA regulations as per 21CFR 314.126 (b) [2] describe the methodologies acceptable for adequate and well-controlled studies which include not only placebo-controlled trials, but also include active treatment, no treatment, and historical controls. As a matter of practice, nonconcurrent controlled studies are rarely viewed as adequate and well-controlled studies.

FDA recently disseminated a new guidance for the content and format for the Clinical Studies section of the label [9]. This guidance states that the end points discussed in the clinical trials section should be essential to establishing effectiveness or should provide additional useful and valid information about the effects of the drug. The guidance goes on to state that, “end points presented should be end points the Agency has accepted as evidence of effectiveness, or closely related end points that may be more easily understood by clinicians. When it would be informative, the Clinical Studies section can also discuss other end points that were shown to be affected by the drug and end points expected to be influenced by the drug, but were not.” Thus, the FDA seems to remain open to the inclusion of PRO measures that are meaningful to prescribers. The number of studies needed to support information in the Clinical Trials section is not explicitly discussed in the guidance. However, it does state that the information should support effectiveness statements and that the Clinical Studies section should be carefully scrutinized to ensure that its content does not imply claims for indications that are not adequately supported. Thus, it appears that the FDA has become more concerned about the use of statements in the Clinical Studies section that may be used in advertising or promotion, although the new guidance does not bar the use of results from a single study in this section to support advertising claims.

Regulation of PRO Claims in Advertising

In recent months, the nature of the FDA regulation of PRO claims used in advertising has become more apparent. Examination of letters noting advertising violations that the Division of Drug Marketing, Advertising and Communications (DDMAC) sent to pharmaceutical companies reveals that several clear trends have emerged in FDA's regulation of quality of life and other PRO claims [10]. For example:

In a letter dated March 7, 2000, DDMAC objected to promotional claims for Neoral™ (cyclosporine for microemulsion). Neoral is used to treat transplant rejection. Under the title of Unsubstantiated Claims, DDMAC objected to claims that the drug affected quality-of-life issues in that it reduced the ability to work or to manage a home, restricted recreational activities, limited personal and/or social relationships, and had a variety of physical and emotional effects. DDMAC claimed that these statements were misleading because “they imply that Neoral has an effect on physical, mental and social functioning that has not been demonstrated by substantial evidence.” In the same letter, DDMAC objected to patient satisfaction claims. In the Neoral promotional material, under the heading of Neoral Promotes Patient Satisfaction, the manufacturer provided quotes such as, “I’ve got my life back—the Neoral difference” and “Neoral makes me feel like a normal human being.” DDMAC objected, stating that these were false and misleading because they made “implied and explicit claims that Neoral promotes patient satisfaction that are not supported by substantial evidence.

In a letter dated March 30, 2000, DDMAC objected to a variety of claims for Relenza™, (zanamivir for inhalation), used to treat the flu. In the advertisement, the manufacturer presented several pictures and statements that emphasized the importance of a single day. The ad contained statements such as:

“Even a day can make a difference;”

“She could miss the busiest day of the year;”

“He could miss the playoff game;”

“She could miss the school bake sale;”

“He could miss the annual stockholders meeting;”

“She could miss her granddaughter's recital;” and

“So when the flu virus gets you, you can get it back, and get back to your life sooner.”

The FDA interpreted these statements as unsubstantial claims for improved functional status and productivity.

In a letter dated March 30, 2000, DDMAC objected to claims for a Duragesic™ (fentanyl transdermal delivery system), a potent pain reliever. Among the objections listed, DDMAC cited the claim that the patch affected patients’ quality of life, which required “substantial supporting evidence in the form of adequate and well-controlled studies designed to specifically address these outcomes.”

In a letter dated April 28, 2000, DDMAC objected to claims for Lotronex™ (alosetron hydrochloride), a drug used to treat certain forms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The manufacturer had described the disabling effects of IBS in terms of health-related quality of life, economic costs, and worker productivity. DDMAC cited these as unsubstantiated because the use of such burden of illness claims in conjunction with promotional material about the drug implied that the drug would improve these outcomes, which was unsubstantiated.

In a letter dated June 20, 2001, DDMAC objected to a web site link for Fosamax™ (alendronate sodium), a drug used for osteoporosis. The link, entitled “Preserving your Independent Lifestyle,” was considered misleading because it implied an outcome that had not been demonstrated by substantial evidence.

In a letter dated June 29, 2001, DDMAC objected to claims that Neurontin™ (gabapentin), an antiepileptic drug. DDMAC cited misleading claims for quality-of-life parameters, such as social limitations, memory difficulties, energy level and work limitations. According to the letter, these claims were based on a study that was not considered to provide substantial evidence, as it was an uncontrolled study.

It is apparent from these DDMAC letters that FDA has concluded that substantial evidence must be used to support PRO claims used in advertising. We suggest that this conclusion is in conflict with the FDA's existing policy for product labels. Further, we believe that an alternative conceptualization for PRO claims, with a more flexible substantiation policy, would provide a more reasonable basis for FDA regulation than the current substantial evidence standard.

Conflict Between Product Labels and Promotional Policy

  1. Top of page
  2. ABSTRACT
  3. Introduction
  4. Advertising Claims
  5. FDA's Regulation of Product Labels and Advertising Claims
  6. Conflict Between Product Labels and Promotional Policy
  7. Implications of Alternative Conceptualizations for Substantiation
  8. Impact of Alternative Substantiation Standards
  9. Conclusion: Developing a Reasonable Policy
  10. References

As suggested above, safety and efficacy information consistent with the product label is deemed truthful and permissible for use in promotional materials. The label consistency standard has provided a useful framework for regulating most promotional claims. However, claims for quality of life, productivity, and treatment satisfaction and many other PRO outcomes are not usually described in the product label. This raises the question regarding how the FDA should regulate advertising claims that are not explicitly described in the product label.

We contend that the level of substantiation required to support a claim should be a function of how the claim is conceptualized. Consistent with the FDA's policy for product labeling, if the information suggests or implies new or alternative uses for a drug, amounting to new indications, it should be supported by sufficient trial data as required for inclusion in the Indications and Uses section of the product label. If the claim provides information about the effects of a drug that are not new indications, but useful information of relevance to practitioners and patients, the FDA has historically required “convincing evidence” as opposed to “substantial evidence” that the claims are truthful.

Following the logic used for product labels, we propose that the amount of substantiation should depend on where such information would belong in the product label regardless of whether or not it is currently included. Certain PRO claims, such as pain relief, often included as a subscale in quality-of-life measurements, could indeed constitute an indication. Pain is a diagnosed medical indication treated with prescription medication and such information, should be included in the Indications and Uses section. Such claims should be supported by substantial evidence.

However, most PRO claims contribute additional information about the benefits of the drug but do not constitute recognized indications for which the drug would be prescribed. The FDA reviewing division, responsible for approving product labels, has not regulated these claims as if they were new indications for the product. For example, Burke [3] described 18 drug labels that included quality-of-life statements. Examination of the labels revealed that in all 18 cases, the quality-of-life outcomes were included in the Clinical Trials section or a similar section of the product label [11]. In most of these descriptions, data from a single study was cited. Thus, the requirement for substantial evidence was not supported in these instances.

On the other hand, the FDA's notice of promotional violation letters indicates that DDMAC views the substantiation requirements as essential for the inclusion of PRO claims in product advertisements and promotional materials. Recently, Burke [1] has stated that substantial evidence is needed if the assessment is not specifically mentioned in the approved labeling. Thus, we are faced with a situation where there is a more rigorous substantiation standard for making PRO claims in promotion than there is for including such claims in product labels.

Furthermore, the FDA has great control over product labels and may decide that even if such information is sustainable scientifically, it is not necessary to assure that the drug can be prescribed safely and effectively and therefore determine that it should not be included in the label. The FDA has less control over what information is included in product advertisements. As long as the information is truthful and sufficient disclosures are provided, manufacturers are free to advertise products on the basis of what they believe to be important regardless of the FDA's view of its relevance. Thus, Company A could promote a product using PRO claims that were included in the Clinical Trials section of their product label but Company B, with identical findings and levels of support, could not make the same advertising claims if the FDA thought the claims were not necessary to be included in their product label.

We propose that the important issue for determining the sufficiency of substantiating data for product advertisements should not be whether that information is included on the label, but rather, where on the label the information would be included. Regardless of whether such information is included in the label, the same standards should be applied to the regulation of claims on both the product label and promotional labeling.

Thus the amount and quality of data required to support PRO claims should be based on where such claims would be placed on the product label. Consistent with the FDA's long-held policy, the same level of evidence should be required to support both promotional and label claims. If the claim is included in the Indications and Use section, then it should be supported by substantial evidence from adequate and well-controlled trials. Similarly, if the claim is included in the Clinical Trials section or some other section, it should meet the evidentiary standard for that section.

Implications of Alternative Conceptualizations for Substantiation

  1. Top of page
  2. ABSTRACT
  3. Introduction
  4. Advertising Claims
  5. FDA's Regulation of Product Labels and Advertising Claims
  6. Conflict Between Product Labels and Promotional Policy
  7. Implications of Alternative Conceptualizations for Substantiation
  8. Impact of Alternative Substantiation Standards
  9. Conclusion: Developing a Reasonable Policy
  10. References

Primary Efficacy or Benefit Extrapolation

Any claim related to changes in an outcome measure after drug ingestion is likely to reflect on the drug's efficacy or safety. The way in which one conceptualizes that outcome is essential for determining the level of evidence required to substantiate claims based on those data. Merely stating that an outcome measures efficacy or that it is based on a patient's subjective assessment is an insuffi-cient rationale for determining substantiation requirements.

We suggest that most PRO claims are not clinical end points relevant to medical diagnoses or effective decisions. We view most PRO claims as describing additional benefits/detriments of the drug that are logical extrapolations of the drug's proven effects, although much of this information is not relevant to product labeling. For example, if a drug decreases the frequency or severity of migraine attacks, it is logical to assume that workers who suffer from migraines would remain more productive if they took that drug. Claims based on a measure of increased productivity would be consistent with the action of the drug. Physicians, however, would prescribe the drug to prevent migraine attacks rather than to increase worker productivity. Productivity claims would not be relevant to prescribing decisions, and their inclusion, even if as part of the Clinical Studies section, would not be warranted. Marketers might view these claims as being of importance for managed care organizations making coverage decisions for commercial clients and for patient marketing, where improved productivity might be considered a valuable benefit of using the drug.

Classic marketing theory suggests that to effectively present product claims to most audiences, it is important to describe these effects in terms of the product's perceived benefits [4]. These benefits can be expressed in terms of the psychosocial consequences of using the product [12]. For example, a drug that treats asthma may make it easier for a patient to breath, which, in turn, may permit the patient to be more active in social situations, which, in turn, may improve patients’ ability to enjoy their friendships more fully. Breathing easier, being more socially active and enjoying friendships are all benefits that can be attributed to a drug that treats asthma. According to the FDA, substantial evidence is required to support any of these claims. We suggest that these downstream claims can be viewed as logical extrapolations of the clinical effects of the drug. As such, conducting the same amount of clinical research as is required to support the use of the drug as an effective treatment for asthma seems redundant and unnecessary. While some reasonable level of support is necessary, substantial evidence for such claims is not warranted.

While many PRO claims are logical extensions of a drugs known or demonstrated clinical effects, we do not suggest that the PRO claims are merely redundant with clinical information. There is increasing evidence, for example, that some health-related quality-of-life (HRQL) measures add meaningful information beyond clinical measures. Mauskopf et al. [13], found that the Nottingham Health Profile was correlated with disease prognosis, disease resolution and the long-term impact of Zoster. Solomon, Skobjeranda, and Gragg [14] found that the SF-20 subscales meaningfully distinguished between cluster, tension and migraine headaches. Wu and Lamping [15] reported that the Activities of Daily Living Scale predicted survival rates independent of CD4 counts and disease stage for HIV patients. Thus, while PRO measures may add meaningful information to a product profile and some of this information may be relevant for prescribing decisions, we believe that the evidence required to support promotional claims needs to be viewed in a flexible manner, based on the relevance of the information to the prescribing decision and on the existing research supporting the claim.

Alternative Substantiation Policy

Using the FDA's long held label-substantiation standards and its policies of holding advertising and product labels to the same standard, we believe it is inappropriate to require substantial evidence for most PRO promotional claims. With a broader public policy perspective, additional questions regarding the quantity and quality of substantiation required to support PRO claims may be raised.

The substantiation standard for HE claims regulated under Section 114 of Food and Drug Administration Modernization Act (FDAMA) provides a useful model for a broad public policy perspective. Under FDAMA, the FDA is directed to use a more flexible standard for the substantiation of HE information. While the standards for clinical claims and clinical assumptions underlying economic models remain as standards acceptable to clinical experts, the standards for HE information are more variable. HE claims do not require substantial evidence or even a single adequate and well-controlled study. Rather, they require competent and reliable scientific evidence for support. This standard is based on the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) substantiation policy, whereby companies must have a reasonable basis for making marketing claims. The FTC standard is flexibly applied to promotional material, and the requirements vary according to the type of claim, the product, the consequences of a false claim, the benefits of a truthful claim, the costs of developing substantiation, and what experts in the field believe is reasonable [16].

Congress passed Section 114 under the premise that formulary members should have access to HE information that does not meet the FDA's traditional standards as long as the clinical basis for such claims is based on the FDA's traditional standard for evidence. The conference committee report reviewing this section of FDAMA further stated that this provision would permit the distribution of information that would include reasonable assumptions about the health-economic consequences derived from, but not explicitly cited in, the approved indication, as long as the information was supported by competent and reliable scientific evidence [17].

This is consistent with the circumstances under which most PRO claims would be made. Applying this logic, clinical effects (i.e., indications and uses) would be supported by the FDA's substantial evidence standard. However, extrapolations based on those clinical effects would have to be supported by competent and reliable scientific evidence. Thus, a reasonable public policy position should hold that substantiation for most PRO claims be based on FTC's competent and reliable evidence standard rather than the FDA's adequate and well-controlled study standard, as long as the clinical basis for such claims meets the substantial evidence standard.

Which Alternative?

The FDA's substantial evidence standard establishes an extremely high bar for PRO advertising claims. We consider two alternative substantiation standards. Using a single adequate and well-controlled study for most PRO claims is consistent with the FDA's product-labeling standards. Other than in the cases where a PRO claim suggests a product indication not included on the approved label, a single study using interpretable secondary end points should provide adequate support for PRO advertising claims. It is also reasonable to use the FTC's competent and reliable standard to support PRO claims under the premise that PRO claims are logical extrapolations of a drug's proven clinical effects.

The issue regarding which of these latter standards should be applied requires further debate. One problem with choosing between these two alternatives is that the difference between them is unclear. It may be that an “adequate and well controlled” study is methodologically congruent with a “competent and reliable” study. The opinion of what experts in the field consider to be reasonable is included among the multiple criteria listed for enforcing the FTC's standard. To its credit, the FDA has met with several organizations and solicited the views of experts in quality-of-life research to gather perspectives on methodological issues related to the study of PRO outcomes [3]. Thus, a body of evidence regarding standards for conducting rigorous research in the field of PROs is evolving.

However, there have been no public policy forums to discuss expert opinions of the amount of evidence reasonably needed to support PRO claims. Furthermore, there have been no public debates dealing with the impact of other aspects of competent and reliable research, such as, what are the consequences of a false claim, what are the benefits of a truthful claim, and what are the costs of developing substantiation? Thus, before a deciding which standard to use, we must define more precisely what the level of evidence required adequately respond to those standards must be defined more precisely, and a more complete discussion of the public policy impact of applying varying standards is essential.

Impact of Alternative Substantiation Standards

  1. Top of page
  2. ABSTRACT
  3. Introduction
  4. Advertising Claims
  5. FDA's Regulation of Product Labels and Advertising Claims
  6. Conflict Between Product Labels and Promotional Policy
  7. Implications of Alternative Conceptualizations for Substantiation
  8. Impact of Alternative Substantiation Standards
  9. Conclusion: Developing a Reasonable Policy
  10. References

One important issue that needs to be debated is how a lesser standard for PRO claims would impact the widespread distribution of “bad information” and its public health effect [18]. One would expect that if the FDA lowered its standards, companies would develop only the lower level of substantiation. How this would impact on the dissemination of false and misleading claims and, ultimately, how this could influence drug usage decisions and prescribing practices are issues that remain to be addressed.

Calfee and Papplardo [19] have suggested that advertising claims should be regulated by considering the impact of dissemination of false claims and of not disseminating truthful claims. Using a traditional truth table, the impact of changing standards for dissemination of advertising can be viewed as follows (Table 1):

Table 1.  Truth table
 Truthful claimFalse claim
Distributed claimCorrect decisionType I error
Claim not distributedType II errorCorrect decision

If a lower standard were applied, one would expect an increased number of Type I errors (false claims distributed). However, there would also be fewer Type II errors (truthful claims not distributed).

To consider the impact of switching Type I for Type II error in promotion, the role of PRO claims in product decision making must be considered. It is difficult to assess precisely the impact that PRO claims have on prescribing or usage decisions. Jack [20] has demonstrated how sales of a pharmaceutical product can increase following the publication of positive study of quality-of-life outcomes. Indeed, PRO outcomes may provide information about differential product benefits. However, unlike clinical information that describes a drug's indications and usage, most PRO claims would not provide information about the type of therapeutic intervention needed in a particular prescribing situation. Thus, PRO claims could influence which drug within a therapeutic class is prescribed (secondary demand) but they are less likely to influence which therapeutic class of drugs should be used (primary demand). As such, a greater number of PRO claims in marketplace would be more likely to impact on brand or within class competition rather than on selection of the most appropriate class of medication for treatment of an individual. Under these circumstances, greater tolerance for Type I errors may be worth the risk, given the greater information made available to help in brand selection decisions.

Conclusion: Developing a Reasonable Policy

  1. Top of page
  2. ABSTRACT
  3. Introduction
  4. Advertising Claims
  5. FDA's Regulation of Product Labels and Advertising Claims
  6. Conflict Between Product Labels and Promotional Policy
  7. Implications of Alternative Conceptualizations for Substantiation
  8. Impact of Alternative Substantiation Standards
  9. Conclusion: Developing a Reasonable Policy
  10. References

This paper proposes three options for substantiation of PRO claims used in advertising: substantial evidence, label consistency, and competent and reliable scientific evidence. The FDA appears willing to accept substantial evidence for advertising claims and label consistency for products that include such claims as part of their approved package inserts regardless of whether the information was originally supported by substantial evidence. Products for which labeled claims do not exist, require substantial evidence to support the use of PRO claims in advertising materials.

We argue that PRO claims often represent logical extrapolations of clinical effects. Even if PRO claims add new information that would not be anticipated, the claim is based on the approved clinical indication for the medication. Given this premise, it is unreasonable to expect that PRO claims should require the same level of substantiation as would a new indication for the medication. Rather, a more reasonable approach is to allow for the dissemination of PRO claims that are based on a reasonable amount of substantiation.

Further, the evidentiary standards for product labels and advertising should be consistent. Labels require different levels of evidence for the Indications and Use section and for the Clinical Trials section. We suggest that the same standards be applied to advertising. Although consistency may not always the best policy, inconsistencies raise questions. Having a logical rationale for public policies that result in a heavy regulatory burden goes a long way to justifying regulatory principles. Without a logical rationale for differences between the FDA's product label and advertising policies, regulatory requirements appear arbitrary and capricious.

We do not differentiate strongly between a labeling consistency and competent and reliable standard. This is because both are more flexible than substantial evidence in their application. and indeed, may represent the same level of evidence under certain circumstances. We suggest that a single study may suffice to support many PRO claims. The methodological standards for such a study deserve great attention. While there has been considerable discussion regarding the methodological rigor for such studies [21], there has been insufficient discussion of costs of such studies, the price paid for setting a high bar for dissemination of these claims, and the consequences of disseminating information that may not be truthful. These factors should be considered in future discussions.

The language of advertising is often optimistic with claims that emphasize the benefits of the product to the patient, rather than merely describing the clinical effects. PRO claims help convey this information and play an important role in communicating the real value of pharmaceuticals to patients, managed care organizations and providers. On the other hand, the FDA has concluded that PRO claims represent end points indicative of a drug's clinical efficacy regardless of the nature of the individual claims. The FDA's recent objection to an implied claim that a drug could help preserve an independent lifestyle on the basis that such an outcome has not been demonstrated by substantial evidence clearly shows a lack of discrimination between meaningful clinical end points relevant for prescribing decisions and extrapolations of a drug's effects of relevance to consumer marketing. It is a matter of debate and conjecture why PRO claims should be required to have the same level of evidence as new indications. Other descriptions of a drug's benefit, using somewhat less specific or more symbolic language or graphics, are not regulated as heavily.

In conclusion, DDMAC has been remarkably open to developing policies for the regulation of PRO claims and outcome researchers have contributed considerable time and effort in elevating this debate by discussing methodological options for studies involving PRO end points. This paper is intended to add to this developing debate by focusing on another area of consideration—how such claims should be regulated. We look forward to these discussions.

Support for this paper was provided by GlaxoSmithKline.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. ABSTRACT
  3. Introduction
  4. Advertising Claims
  5. FDA's Regulation of Product Labels and Advertising Claims
  6. Conflict Between Product Labels and Promotional Policy
  7. Implications of Alternative Conceptualizations for Substantiation
  8. Impact of Alternative Substantiation Standards
  9. Conclusion: Developing a Reasonable Policy
  10. References
  • 1
    Burke LB. Acceptable evidence for pharmaceutical advertising and labeling. Drug Information Association Workshop, New Orleans, LA.
  • 2
    Leidy NK, Revicki DA, Geneste B. Recommendations for evaluating the validity of quality of life claims in labeling and promotion. Value Health 1999; 2: 11327.
  • 3
    Santanello NC, Baker D, Cappelleri JC et al. Regulatory Issues for Health-Related Quality of Life—PhRMA Health Outcomes Committee Workshop, 1999. Value Health 2002; in press.
  • 4
    Engel JF, Blackwell RD, Miniard PW, eds. Consumer Behavior. Fort Worth, Texas: Dryden Press, 1995.
  • 5
    Spilker B, ed. Quality of Life and Pharmacoeconomics in Clinical Trials, 2nd ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott-Raven, 1996.
  • 6
    Food and Drug Administration. Guidance for Industry; Content and Format of the Adverse Reactions Section of Labeling for Human Prescription Drugs and Biologics, May 2000. Available at www.fda.gov/cder/guidance/1888dft.htm. Accessed October 30, 2000.
  • 7
    Food and Drug Administration. Guidance for Industry; Providing Clinical Evidence of Effectiveness for Human Prescription Drugs and Biologics, May 1998 Available at www.fda.gov/cder/guidance/1397fnl.pdf. Accessed October 30, 2000.
  • 8
    Food and Drug Administration. Requirements for the content and format of labeling for human prescription drugs and biologics. Requirements for prescription drug product labels; proposed rule. Federal Register 2000; 65: 81082131.
  • 9
    Food and Drug Administration. Draft Guidance for Industry; Clinical Studies Section of Labeling for Prescription Drugs and Biologics—Content and Format, July 2001. Available at www.fda.gov/ cder/guidance/ 1890dft.htm. Accessed August 29, 2001.
  • 10
    Food and Drug Administration. Warning Letters and Untitled Letters to Pharmaceutical Companies, 2000. Available at www.fda.gov/cder/ warn/ warn2000.htm. Accessed October 30, 2000 and August 13, 2001.
  • 11
    Morris LA, Miller D. Regulating functional claims in advertising. Drug Information Association Workshop, New Orleans, LA, October, 2000.
  • 12
    Peter JP, Olsen JC. Consumer Behavior and Marketing Strategy (4th ed.). Boston: Irwin Press, 1996.
  • 13
    Mauskopf JA, Austin MA, Dix LP, Berzon RA. Estimating the value of a generic quality-of-life measure. Med Care 1995; 33: AS195AS202.
  • 14
    Solomon GD, Skobjeranda FG, Gragg LA. Does quality of life differ among headache diagnoses? Analysis using the medical outcomes study instrument. Headache 1994; 34: 1437.
  • 15
    Wu AW, Lamping DL. Assessment of quality of life in HIV disease. AIDS 1994; 8(Suppl. 1): 534959.
  • 16
    Federal Trade Commission. Policy statement regarding advertising substantiation program. Federal Register 1984; 49: 309991001.
  • 17
    Conference Committee Report, Food and Drug Modernization Act. Available from ISPOR US Legislation Briefing, Background Information. Washington, DC. January, 1998.
  • 18
    Neumann PJ, Zinner DE, Paltiel AD. The FDA's regulation of cost-effectiveness claims. Health Aff 1996; 15: 5471.
  • 19
    Calfee J, Papplardo J. Public policy issues in health claims for food. J Public Policy Marketing 1991; 6: 6583.
  • 20
    Jack W. Pharmaceutical differentiation through quality of life measurement: a case study. J Pharmaceut Marketing Meas 1991; 6: 6583.
  • 21
    Santanello NC, Baker D, Cappelleri JC Regulatory issues for health-related quality of life—PhRMA Health Outcomes Committee Workshop, 1999, Value Health 2002; In press.