J&J, via its Ortho McNeil Pharmaceuticals unit, makes and markets may of top-selling brands of birth control pills, including Ortho-Cyclen, Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo, and Ortho-Novum. Its Ortho Evra birth control patch however, which came on the market in the U.S. in 2002, is facing consumer lawsuits due to blood clots and strokes.
The brand, via a warning from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration in November 2005, does carry a sterner warning of blood clot risk. While all birth control pills (and many other medications containing estrogen-based hormones) carry a risk of blood clots and other complications, the risks are larger with the birth control patch, as women are exposed to higher level of hormones versus oral medications.
While none of the domain names purchased and registered by J&J were in use, it's quite possible that they would have eventually--maybe sooner rather than later, likely by litigators who have become quick to pounce on pharmaceutical companies.
"It's really a best practice move," says Larry Mickelberg, senior vice president/Marketing of Medical Broadcasting Co., an interactive pharmaceutical agency which just yesterday announced a partnership with Digitas to form Digitas Health.
J&J's preemptive damage control may in part come from learning what not to do by watching Merck's experience with Vioxx, its arthritis drug which is now off the market. That situation prompted Web sites with names like Vioxxlitigation.com, Vioxxlawyers.com and others also referenced by medical malpractice attorneys in TV spot ads. "Vioxx has definitely changed the rules for drug companies," says Mickelberg.
A study from February 2006 showed that blood clot risk was doubled for women using the birth control patch versus oral contraceptives. In addition, women who use the patch are exposed to 60% more hormones than those who take birth control pills.
The appeal for many women who use the patch though, is convenience--a benefit that is played up in Ortho Evra's direct to consumer print and TV ads--as well as lowering the risk of an unwanted pregnancy in the event one forgets to take the pill.
Editor's note: This story has been edited since publication to correct a minor error.