When Google talks about online ads, everybody listens.
So check out the Internet giant's idea for rejiggering online promotion of prescription drugs to pass muster with the Food and Drug Administration.
Here's the way Google would like to do it: A link headline would go to a designated landing page, warning language would be a permanent part of the sponsored link, and "more info" would lead a person to details about risks. For drugs carrying black-box labels, there would be a special kind of sponsored link to emphasize safety information.
Google made its pitch today at a public meeting the agency convened for input on rules for communication between companies and consumers on the Web. (See Google's slides here.)
Recall that in early April the agency slapped 14 pharmaceutical companies with stern warnings about sponsored links, those search results someone pays to have come up on your computer screen.
The basic problem, as FDA's letter to Pfizer explained, was the omission of information about risk in the links that mentioned what the drugs are supposed to treat.
In the absence of specific regulations, the industry had pretty much settled on the idea that risk information that was "one click away" would be do the job. That "one-click" rule of thumb was demolished by the agency's flurry of letters.
Since the crackdown, sponsored links have been scrubbed of the information that FDA didn't like (such as mentions of what a drug is used for) but that consumers were interested in. Google's Amy Cowan said at the FDA meeting that clickthrough rates have gone down dramatically as a result.
So what does the FDA think of Google's proposal? To our disappointment, the FDA panel had no comments or questions about the presentation, the last one of the day.