British Pharma Association Admonishes Two Firms for Christmas Party

British Pharma Association Admonishes Two Firms for Christmas Party

June 19th, 2012 // 12:03 pm @

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So when is an educational symposium in fact a Christmas party?

And the answer to the riddle is… when the meeting is held in a restaurant 10 days before Christmas, the invitation mentions ‘Xmas meal,’ the program lasts approximately one hour and the open-ended gathering is initiated by a physician who regularly meets with sales reps from the drugmakers, which agree to pick up the tab. As a result, this real-life scenario earned both Novo Nordisk and Sanofi admonishments from the pharmaceutical industry trade group in the UK.

The good times began last November, when e-mails were exchanged between a clinician, who specializes in diabetes at an unnamed foundation trust, and sales reps from the two drugmakers, according to case reports released by the Association for the British Pharmaceutical Industry. The arrangement resembled a typical educational symposium which, in this case, was held at a local restaurant, but an anonymous attendee complained that the stated agenda never materialized.

The official part of the evening, which was slated to begin at 7:30 but did not have a specified ending time, consisted of two short presentations. One consultant, though, displayed just six slides that detailed his background, clinical interests and reasons for moving to the area. Further discussions continued over dinner. In all, 26 people attended and the bill for food and drink came to roughly $1,500, which the drugmakers split just about evenly.

As for the agenda, this was orchestrated by the foundation trust, which suggested the talks focus on teamwork, since personnel had recently undergone some change, and launching an in-patient diabetes service. The drugmakers did not set the agenda, and the ABPI questioned whether there was sufficient educational content and if the event was really an excuse to have the drugmakers pick up the tab for a holiday party.

In their defense, the drugmakers maintained that the content was appropriate and genuinely educational, there were no promotional exhibits or materials distributed, and the gathering was held in a separate part of the restaurant where the public was precluded from entering, according to the case reports. After losing an initial ruling, the drugmakers appealed and prevailed on one key point, but came out slightly bruised, nonetheless.

An ABPI appeals panel decided there was enough educational content that one breach of the voluntary industry code of conduct had not occurred. The panel ruled that, “on balance, the arrangements were not such as to bring discredit upon or reduce confidence in the pharmaceutical industry.” But the panel did rule that two other breaches did occur, including one concerning ethical judgment (the Novo Nordisk and Sanofi case reports are here and here).

The other pertains to a clause that instructs drugmakers not to create the wrong impression when sponsoring such gatherings. “Hospitality must be strictly limited to the main purpose of the event and must be secondary to the purpose of the meeting ie subsistence only. The level of subsistence offered must be appropriate and not out of proportion to the occasion” (you can read clauses 15.2 and 19.1 here). In other words, both drugmakers took inadequate measures to avoid inappropriate appearances. Then again, it was holiday time.


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