UK drug regulator planning to get tough on sales pushes

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The Independent Online

The UK drugs regulator is considering plans to "name and shame" pharmaceuticals companies that engage in aggressive or misleading marketing.

The UK drugs regulator is considering plans to "name and shame" pharmaceuticals companies that engage in aggressive or misleading marketing.

The organisation is also looking at tightening rules on company-sponsored entertainment and hospitality for doctors, and on "disease awareness" campaigns that implicitly promote a particular drug to people. It may also step up prosecutions for the most serious breaches by drug companies.

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulation Agency (MHRA) is to ask for public comments on possible "get tough" policies, after taking private soundings from the drug industry over the past weeks.

There has been a string of safety scares and searing criticism of the industry, which spends twice as much on marketing its products as it does on research and development.

Jeremy Mean, policy group manager at the MHRA, said the agency began publishing the outcome of some disciplinary investigations last year. But it is considering mimicking the US regulator, the Food & Drug Administration, in revealing the detail of the investigations and the full text of any warning letter from the MHRA in a move that would embarrass the company involved.

It would also respond to concern over lavish company-sponsored trips to industry conferences for doctors by the industry, he said. Mr Mean said the agency wanted to use its power to prosecute miscreant companies. "There may be no point having teeth, and it may not work as deterrence, if it is not seen to be used."

At a health Select Committee hearing into the pharmaceutical industry this week, June Raine, the MHRA's executive in charge of post-licensing, said the agency could also clamp down on "disease awareness" campaigns by drug companies an indirect way of advertising a medicine to the public. Unlike in the US, direct-to-consumer advertising is banned in the UK.

The industry lobby group, the Association of the British Pharmaceuticals Industry, said it too was revising its code of practice on marketing.

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