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Friday, March 02, 2012

Reminder Ads OK in EU But Not in US. Huh?

The Geneva-based International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) expanded its practice code to cover all interactions with health-care professionals, medical institutions and patient organizations, including a ban on doctors from receiving payments to attend conferences (see "Big Bad Pharma, Bribery and the New EU Industry Code").

According to the above cited source (WSJ's "Corruption Currents" blog) this was a bit like closing the barn door after the cows have left:
"This comes at a time when the association’s members are trying to drum up business in developing countries, some of which have state-run health systems. Employees of such systems, including doctors and nurses, can be considered foreign officials under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a 1977 law that bars bribing foreign officials for business purposes.

"To that end, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department are in the midst of a sweep of the industry. In April 2011, Johnson & Johnson agreed to pay $70 million to resolve violations, and The Wall Street Journal reported in November 2011 that Pfizer Inc. will pay more than $60 million when its settlement gets finalized.

"Both companies, the Journal reported, ratted on their competitors.

"Those competitors included AstraZeneca, Merck & Co., Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., GlaxoSmithKline PLC and others that have disclosed investigations for possible FCPA breaches. Eli Lilly & Co. was in advanced talks in April 2011 with the Justice Department, and the company said Feb. 24 in its annual results it’s at the same level with the SEC.

"Letters of inquiry to several of the companies, dating back more than a year, laid out several types of of possible violations: bribing government-employed doctors to purchase drugs; paying company sales agents commissions that are passed along to government doctors; paying hospital committees to approve drug purchases; and paying regulators to win drug approvals."
Any way, I decided to download the new "IFPMA Code of Practice" to see if there was anything interesting or actually new (you can find it attached to the post here). The code is intended to cover "interactions with healthcare professionals, medical institutions and patient organizations, and the promotion of pharmaceutical products."

This section popped out at me:
5.2 Reminder Advertisements

A “reminder” advertisement is defined as a short advertisement containing no more than the name of the product and a simple statement of indications to designate the therapeutic category of the product. For “reminder” advertisements, “abbreviated prescribing information” referred to in Article 5.1 above may be omitted. 
The "abbreviated prescribing information" include "an approved indication or indications for use together with the dosage and method of use; and a succinct statement of the contraindications, precautions, and side-effects."

In other words, it is perfectly OK to promote drugs to healthcare professionals and patient organizations using reminder ads that do not include safety information. Note: these ads must be print ads in professional publications because no such ads would be allowed on mass media such as TV, which reaches consumer audiences. Promotions  of Rx drugs to consumers is not allowed in the EU, reminder ads included.

The U.S. pharma industry does not have a "practice code" for advertising or "marketing" to healthcare professionals, medical institutions and patient organizations. It does, however, have "Guiding Principles" for direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising, published by PhRMA (the U.S. industry trade association) in December, 2008. Principle 13 states "DTC television advertising that identifies a product by name should clearly state the health conditions for which the medicine is approved and the major risks associated with the medicine being advertised." I.e., NO REMINDER ADS!

Of course, PhRMA's principles leave open the door for running DTC PRINT ads, although I haven't seen many of these in the consumer publications I read. The exception is BOTOX, marketed by Allergan, which has NOT signed on to PhRMA's principles (see "PhRMA Intern vs. BOTOX!").

So, why does the IFPMA Code of Practice specifically carve out an allowance for "reminder ads?" Is that a technique often used in the EU to win over the hearts and minds of healthcare professionals? I don't get it.

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