Do celebrities help sell new medicines?

May 30, 2002

Last month, Camilla Parker Bowles made her first big public speech on behalf of the National Osteoporosis Society to raise awareness of the bone condition. In this week's BMJ, journalist Ray Moynihan suggests that by spreading the word about osteoporosis, she is inadvertently helping to expand markets for new medicines.

The trend of using high profile personalities to raise awareness about diseases is growing. In the US, Frasier star Kelsey Gramer and his wife appeared publicly to raise awareness of irritable bowel syndrome, while film and television star Cybill Shepherd recently talked about the menopause. Both campaigns were a huge success in the American healthcare market.

Unlike the television stars, Camilla Parker Bowles is not being paid by a drug or supplement company, but her recent appearances talking about osteoporosis have nevertheless attracted media attention, says the author.

They also appear somehow to be synchronised with a much larger global campaign being underwritten by the world's biggest pharmaceutical companies, he adds. The commercial sponsor for the meeting at which Mrs Parker Bowles spoke was Lilly, the manufacturer of a new osteoporosis drug, and her "call to action" for early diagnosis and prevention is based on a report sponsored by eight global pharmaceutical companies. Lilly is the "Gold Sponsor."

Intuitively, early diagnosis and prevention make perfect sense, but the debate within the medical literature about osteoporosis is far more complicated than these simple measures reveal, says the author.

Although Mrs Parker Bowles paid her own way to the meeting, by spreading the word about osteoporosis, she is inadvertently raising awareness about the latest trend in global drug promotion, he concludes.


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