February 14, 2007 / 7:22 AM / 12 years ago

EXCLUSIVE-J&J film takes drug ads into new territory

By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Johnson & Johnson(JNJ.N), one of America’s major drug companies, will soon introduce a new genre of advertising in the form of a documentary film about inflammatory diseases but some health experts say the film may blur the lines between patient education and self-interest.

J&J’s big screen effort, due to debut in New York later this month, comes as critics sharpen their complaints about direct-to-consumer TV ads that play down possible side effects of drugs and drive up healthcare costs.

The 60-minute film, dubbed Innerstate, illustrates the lives of three adults dealing with psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease — all of whom ultimately find relief through advanced and costly biologic drugs like Johnson & Johnson’s Remicade.

Michael Parks, spokesman for J&J’s Centocor unit (which makes Remicade) and executive producer of the film, defended the effort.

“This is definitely not a 60-minute infomercial. The intent is really to educate patients in a meaningful way,” said Parks, who acknowledges growing skepticism about drug advertising.

He said traditional direct-to-consumer advertising does not provide enough time to cover complex diseases like Crohn’s disease, a chronic bowel inflammation that can be debilitating. The film allows patients to discuss the process they went through before making the decision to use advanced therapies.

“Every single patient talks about the exploration — how they tried other things that didn’t work,” he said. Parks said the film reflects J&J’s move away from brand-specific TV advertising, noting that no drugs are mentioned by name in the film.

While the film has the backing of patient support groups, the idea of a documentary produced by a drug company leaves some doctors wary.

“This is a whole new dimension in direct-to-consumer advertising,” said Dr. Jerry Avorn, a Harvard researcher and author of Powerful Medicines: The Benefits, Risks and Costs of Prescription Drugs.

“What makes me edgy about it is if it is going to be a commercial, you should know it’s a commercial. I’m very troubled by the blurring of the lines between advertising and patient education,” Avorn said.

Parks interviewed 40 patients before selecting the three portrayed in the film. He then turned the project over to producer/director Chris Valentino, who incorporated interviews with the patients, their doctors and families.

The movie will roll out in a about a dozen U.S. markets, including Boston, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Chicago. Schedules for the free screenings at regular movie theaters will be listed on the Web site, www.myinnerstate.com, and be followed by a health fair in the theaters featuring local experts on the diseases discussed in the film.

Marc Freed, an Illinois pediatrician who has seen patients with all three disorders, said J&J may do some good in boosting awareness of the conditions, but he expressed caution. “They do have an interest in this,” he said.

From an advertising perspective, the movie approach is a cost-effective way to reach a targeted audience, said branding expert Alan Siegel of Siegel & Gale in New York.

“It’s fairly intelligent, but I don’t think it’s a documentary,” Siegel said. “I’m all for anything that educates people, but if you are going to do a documentary, do a real one. Give someone some money and ... don’t have any say about what’s in it,” he said.

J&J’s movie push comes at a time of increasing competition in the market for therapies like Remicade, which is part of a group of drugs that suppress tumor necrosis factor-alpha, a protein that plays a key role in inflammation. The drug costs from $18,000 to $21,000 a year.

Other drugs in the class include Amgen Inc.’s (AMGN.O) Enbrel and Abbott Laboratories Inc.’s(ABT.N) Humira. All carry warnings about the possibility of malignancies or serious infections.

“These are very good drugs and used correctly, they can make a big impact,” Harvard’s Avorn said. “But I’m old fashioned enough to think whether or not to use a drug like Remicade ought to be the decision of the doctor and not because a patient saw a movie.”

((Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen, editing by Toni Reinhold; Reuters Messaging: julie.steenhuysen.reuters.com@reuters.net; julie.steenhuysen@reuters.com; 312-408-8131)) Keywords: JOHNSONANDJOHNSON ADS/

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