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Hearts, Minds, and Maladies: Toward a Critical Theory of the Commodification of Pharmaceuticals
Unformatted Document Text:  15 toward “sampling,” assessed as the retail value of drug samples left at sales visits to physicians’ offices; over 30% went toward “detailing,” or the salaries and expenses of sales representatives to doctors’ offices and hospitals. At the same time advertising in professional medical journals has decreased from 5 percent to 3.1 percent between 1996 and 2000. (Kreling, Mott, and Wiederholt 2001). The research and development of new drugs have become a processes where the products’ marketability is given front-and-center attention. Drug companies have now joined forces with ad agencies to commodify their products long before these products have gained federal approval for sale. With this the demarcation between marketing and promotional activities and research and development increasingly recedes. The net result can be evidenced in the trenches of biotechnological research. Today, for example, advertising agencies assist drug companies in recruiting patients for clinical trials and even conduct medical experiments in their own labs. Hence, such experiments do not proceed in order to combat the variety of maladies presently facing humankind; they are instead created with an explicit focus on their potential for producing the next new “blockbuster drug,” (a term borrowed from Hollywood parlance to denote a biotechnological commodity capable of generating maximum profit) as a necessary and pronounced prerogative of the research and development process. As Thomas Harrison, chief executive officer of Diversified Agency Services, a division of Omnicom Group Inc., salaciously observes regarding his ad agency’s role in pharmaceutical research, ““’What we want to try to do is look at the molecule in the test tube as a brand … what is the maximum commercial potential of this molecule? What will it be when it grows up? What is the message? How should the clinical trial be developed?’” Ad agencies become involved in the formative stages of a drug’s development to increase their chances of obtaining the account if the drug comes to market. This lessens the

Authors: Tracy, James.
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15
toward “sampling,” assessed as the retail value of drug samples left at sales visits
to physicians’ offices; over 30% went toward “detailing,” or the salaries and
expenses of sales representatives to doctors’ offices and hospitals. At the same
time advertising in professional medical journals has decreased from 5 percent to
3.1 percent between 1996 and 2000. (Kreling, Mott, and Wiederholt 2001).
The research and development of new drugs have become a processes
where the products’ marketability is given front-and-center attention. Drug
companies have now joined forces with ad agencies to commodify their products
long before these products have gained federal approval for sale. With this the
demarcation between marketing and promotional activities and research and
development increasingly recedes. The net result can be evidenced in the
trenches of biotechnological research. Today, for example, advertising agencies
assist drug companies in recruiting patients for clinical trials and even conduct
medical experiments in their own labs. Hence, such experiments do not proceed
in order to combat the variety of maladies presently facing humankind; they are
instead created with an explicit focus on their potential for producing the next
new “blockbuster drug,” (a term borrowed from Hollywood parlance to denote a
biotechnological commodity capable of generating maximum profit) as a
necessary and pronounced prerogative of the research and development process.
As Thomas Harrison, chief executive officer of Diversified Agency Services, a
division of Omnicom Group Inc., salaciously observes regarding his ad agency’s
role in pharmaceutical research, ““’What we want to try to do is look at the
molecule in the test tube as a brand … what is the maximum commercial
potential of this molecule? What will it be when it grows up? What is the
message? How should the clinical trial be developed?’” Ad agencies become
involved in the formative stages of a drug’s development to increase their
chances of obtaining the account if the drug comes to market. This lessens the


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