Plot twist: Cheesy soap opera script is deceptive drug ad, doctors warn

May 19, 2017

Enlarge / General Hospital’s Anna Devane gets diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer. (credit: Itslorigh, General Hospital)

This year on General Hospital, central character Anna Devane is stricken with a rare and life-threatening type of blood cancer. Gasp! OK, this may not be shocking; dramatic, unlikely, and always tragic events are the norm on soap operas. But this one is a little different.

Prior to the tear-jerking diagnosis, the ABC daytime drama—the longest running soap opera in the US—made a deal with a pharmaceutical company to come up with her fate. And the company, Incyte Corporation, just so happens to make the only targeted therapy for fictional Anna’s very real form of cancer. This did not sit well with two doctors.

In an opinion piece published this week in JAMA, Sham Mailankody of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and Vinay Prasad of Oregon Health & Science University systematically question the intent of the promotion. The piece ends with a call to arms to medical policy makers and regulators to try to stamp out these “creative” promotions.

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