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Astrazeneca Breaches UK Laws
By: Kendall PC
June 16, 2023

AstraZeneca Breaches U.K. Drug Marketing Code with LinkedIn Activity

The Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority (PMCPA), the drug marketing code pharmaceutical manufacturers must abide by in the U.K., has issued a new ruling finding that AstraZeneca (AZ) breached three PMCPA clauses stemming from LinkedIn activity. Pharmaceutical manufacturers are prohibited from directly advertising or promoting prescription drug products in the U.K. (as in Europe). The PMCPA’s requirements contain many layers which may be construed as “promotion.”

AZ was alleged to have promoted Forxiga (dapagliflozin), lisinopril, and other AZ medicines on LinkedIn and failed to include declarations of interest in a published paper. Specifically, a named contactable complainant who described him/herself as a hospital consultant in endocrine medicine (the “Complainant”) complained of two LinkedIn posts made by an AZ employee. The first LinkedIn post referred to a just-published study on blood pressure control and anti-hypertensive therapy in the U.S. In the second LinkedIn post, the AZ employee appeared to have “liked” and commented on another post by a different academic researcher and just-published study.

The Complainant provided screenshots of the studies and alleged that they referred to the AZ medicine Forixga in heart failure in the first study and lisinopril, hydrochlorothiazide, and other AZ medicines and blood pressure control in the second study. According to the Complainant, the issue with posting the studies on LinkedIn, a “social/professional networking site for professionals,” is that the practice “was like promoting ‘debatable evidence’ from one study to the general public.” Additionally, the Complainant stated that one of his/her patients challenged the Complainant’s “clinical judgment” after viewing these studies online.

The Complainant also took issue with the fact that the AZ employee had failed to openly state that he/she was affiliated with AZ and that he/she was a paid member of staff. Per the Complainant, this failure went against “all ethics surrounding the declaration of interest.” The failure was further compounded by the fact that LinkedIn is a professional recruitment platform and not a “great scientific discipline” because most users of the site were members of the public. Similarly, the Complainant stated that the second post of the publication authored by an AZ employee featuring AZ medicines failed to declare his/her conflict of interest in complete violation of the Code.

The PMCPA panel ruled a breach of the following Clauses of the 2021 Code in relation to an AZ employee liking and commenting on a LinkedIn post about dapagliflozin:

  • Breach of Clause 5.1 – Failing to Maintain High Standards
  • Breach of Clause 26.1 – Advertising a Prescription-Only Medicine to the Public
  • Breach of Clause 26.2 – Encouraging Members of the Public to Ask Their Health Professional for a Specific Prescription-Only Medicine

According to the Panel, the AZ employees like and comment “disseminat[ed] information about a prescription-only medicine to members of the public, which may have encouraged members of the public to ask their health professional to prescribe it.” The ruling also noted that the AZ employee’s actions also violated U.K. company policy.

The Panel found that no breach of the following 2021 Code clauses occurred in relation to an allegation that the AZ employee had promoted named AZ prescription-only medicines to the public via LinkedIn posts, that a “post was not factual or balanced, that a post raised unfounded hopes of successful treatment, and that the conflict of interest declaration of the employee was not clear”:

  • No Breach of Clause 5.5 – Requirement to Clearly Indicate the Role of the Pharmaceutical Company
  • No Breach of Clause 26.1 – Requirement to Not Advertise Prescription-Only Medicines to the Public
  • No Breach of Clause of 26.2 — Requirement that Information About Prescription Only Medicines Which is Made Available to the Public Must be Factual, Balanced, Must Not Raise Unfounded Hopes of Successful Treatment or Encourage the Public to Ask Their Health Professional to Prescribe a Specific Prescription Only Medicine

Additionally, the Panel considered that the rulings of breaches of the Code adequately addressed the matter and that an additional ruling of a breach of Clause 2 would be “disproportionate in the particular circumstances of this case.”

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