Over the years, the pharmaceutical industry has been at the forefront of research and innovation in drug discovery and development. The process of drug discovery extending from preclinical studies to multicentric clinical trials and postmarketing phase is a costly affair running into billions of dollars. On the flip side, not all investigational molecules clear the trial phases and get approved, which puts pressure on the manufacturers to maximize the profit from approved drugs. It is in this key area that the practice of drug promotion plays its role. The World Health Organization defines drug promotion as "all informational and persuasive activities by manufacturers and distributors, the effect of which is to influence the prescription, supply, purchase or use of medicinal drugs". With its humble intent of creating awareness among healthcare professionals and updating their knowledge on recent advances in treatment options, drug promotion has been an important tool, but gradually it has evolved to embrace aggressive marketing strategies and sometimes unethical business and scientific practices where the need for profit-making eclipses commitment to patient care and scientific exploration. In this review, we discuss the evolution of drug promotion practices, the various types, its merits and demerits, the influence of drug promotion on physician prescribing behaviour, the role of regulatory bodies, unethical promotional practices and finally summarize with future directions.
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