As Seen on TV, an occasional column, brings you the inside story behind TV ads for drugs and health care.
Mylan Pharmaceuticals, which has been in the hot seat for hiking the price of its EpiPen anaphylaxis treatment beyond the reach of some patients, ran dozens of ads during NBC’s Olympics coverage to raise awareness of food allergies and push patients to talk to their doctors about treatments.
The ad doesn’t mention EpiPens — but since EpiPens are, by far, the dominant anaphylaxis treatment, it’s a safe bet they’d be the first option for many physicians. And the ad drives consumers to an allergy awareness website that links in just a few clicks to the EpiPen site.
Mylan bought $1.7 million worth of airtime during NBC’s coverage of the Rio Games, putting its ad in front of viewers 46 times during the two weeks of the Olympics, according to the media research firm iSpot.tv.
The spot, titled “Face Your Risk,” opens with the terrified face of a teen watching her friend gasp for air while her skin blooms with mysterious dark patches. The apparent culprit: brownies containing peanuts. After a few moments of high drama and a 911 call, the girl collapses.
“Every six minutes, food allergies send someone to the hospital,” the narrator intones. “Always avoid your allergens, and talk to your doctor about a prescription treatment you should carry for reactions.”
The ad then suggest visitors visit FaceYourRisk.com, which offers a deep dive into food allergies. The “treatment” tab leads directly to the EpiPen website.
Roughly 15 million Americans have food allergies, including around 1 in every 13 children, according to Food Allergy Research & Education, a nonprofit organization. And Mylan has been aggressive in recent years about raising awareness of the danger of anaphylactic shock — and the value of carrying a lifesaving dose of epinephrine, as in an EpiPen.
In fact, there are few alternatives to the EpiPen. Its primary competitor, Auvi-Q, was pulled from the market late last year for safety reasons. Another device, Adrenaclick, was barely prescribed by physicians last year, and a generic version has also struggled to compete.
Thanks to the EpiPen’s market dominance and its success in generating demand, Mylan has had little trouble raising prices. A pack of two EpiPens now costs more than $600, which is six times the 2004 price, according to Elsevier’s Gold Standard Drug Database. The product now brings in about $1 billion a year in revenue, up from around $200 million in 2007.The EpiPen price hikes have stirred outrage among consumers — and politicians.
In recent days, Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), have either criticized the company’s pricing or have sought company data about EpiPen prices. Meanwhile, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) asked the Federal Trade Commission and the Senate Judiciary Committee to investigate Mylan’s price hikes.
Mylan did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.
Mylan was among a handful of pharmaceutical companies to advertise during the Olympics.
Novo Nordisk’s Victoza diabetes treatment was the top pharma advertiser by far, buying $9.2 million worth of air time to get its “Moment of Truth” ad, featuring star NBA player Dominique Wilkins, on television 48 times during Olympic coverage, according to iSpot.tv.
All told, drug makers bought about $56 million worth of airtime during the Olympics, and appeared nearly 500 times during commercial breaks.
Correction: A previous version of this story used incorrect figures for the total amount of airtime pharma companies purchased during the Olympics.