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'Decreased Innovation'

Iqvia's Propel Media Buy Would Eliminate 'Intense' Competition, Says FTC

If Iqvia’s purchase of Propel Media (PMI) goes through, the acquisition would “eliminate intense head-to-head competition” between Iqvia’s Lasso division and PMI’s DeepIntent healthcare professional (HCP) programmatic advertising platform, said the FTC’s redacted memorandum of law Thursday (docket 1:23-cv-06188) in support of its motion for a preliminary injunction to block the acquisition on antitrust grounds.

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Iqvia is “in the midst of a buying spree,” having bought several companies in the HCP programmatic advertising market and “now seeks to acquire one of its closest direct competitors,” said the FTC, citing the company's July 2022 agreement to buy PMI, the second-largest provider of HCP programming advertising via DeepIntent.

HCP programmatic advertising offers a way for a pharmaceutical company, for instance, to target an HCP specialist online, “time the advertisements to match with the HCP’s relevant patient visits, and measure the impact of those ads by matching the HCP’s prescription data” for a given drug, said the memorandum. “No other form of advertising offers the same capabilities, or the same power to reach specific doctors and influence prescribing behavior,” it said, citing a DeepIntent case study.

The FTC gave three reasons in support of its motion for a preliminary injunction, with the first that the evidentiary record in the case establishes the proposed acquisition would combine “the two top competitors for HCP advertising.” Lasso and DeepIntent aren’t just two of many competitors, but as described by Iqvia in June, they are two of the primary options for any healthcare advertiser seeking to target HCPs via programmatic ads, said the memorandum. The third company’s name was redacted. The “relentless competition between Lasso and DeepIntent has resulted in rapid innovation and serial price reductions to win business away from each other," it said.

In the FTC's second point in support of the motion for injunction, the HCP programmatic market share figure of a combined Iqvia and PMI was redacted. The memorandum said market shares “understate the competitive clash between Lasso and DeepIntent, considering Iqvia’s stated intent to consolidate the market."

The third reason supporting the motion for injunction was the threat that Iqvia will use its position as a “key supplier of healthcare data to strangle its rivals for HCP programmatic advertising.” Iqvia controls “critical inputs,” the agency said, referencing the “detailed and comprehensive data” regarding HCPs, claims and prescriptions necessary to offer competitive HCP programmatic advertising services. Nearly every company that offers HCP programmatic advertising “relies on Iqvia’s data,” the memorandum said, citing DeepIntent. A quote from DeepIntent’s CEO on what the company could do “if it controlled Iqvia’s data” was redacted.

In July, FTC commissioners voted 3-0 to begin an administrative proceeding to determine whether the proposed acquisition violates antitrust laws. The administrative trial, slated to begin Dec. 20, will include up to 210 hours of live testimony, “thousands of exhibits, and voluminous briefing,” said the memorandum. The question before the court is whether the FTC has shown it has a “fair and tenable chance” of success on the merits sufficient to maintain the status quo pending a full administrative trial, it said. The evidence “easily meets” the standard, it said.

Without preliminary injunctive relief, Iqvia can buy PMI and begin integrating DeepIntent, said the FTC. Customers would be harmed with “higher prices and decreased innovation,” and the defendants could “scramble the eggs,” making it “extremely difficult, if not impossible, for competition to be restored to its previous state,” it said.