We take ethical responsibilities seriously
Paul Woods leads worldwide promotional regulatory affairs department for
AstraZeneca, UK. He shares his views with Sonal Shukla on the significance
of code of pharmaceutical marketing practices and its practical implications.
What is the significance of having a code for pharmaceutical
The code of pharmaceutical practices is incredibly important
to the pharma industry and its becoming more so over the past few years. Sales
and marketing, practices is one of the areas, in which the industry has received
criticism around the world. Therefore, it has been important to make sure that
we are absolutely clear where we are going to draw the lines, particularly to
those areas, which have been contentious and have drawn adverse publicity. In
recent years, there has been criticism around some of the hospitality areas
and the kind of gifts given to the doctors. International Federation of Pharmaceutical
Manufacturers' Association (IFPMA) has been advising the code, where particular
attention is given to the areas concerning relationship between pharmaceutical
companies and health professionals.
The reason for putting a code in place is the fact that there is a perception
that pharma companies may be organising meetings, taking doctors to exotic hotels,
locations and offering benefits, which is not appropriate. It is important to
get clarifications on where the lines of acceptability rests. There is nothing
wrong in sponsoring doctors to go to educational events and symposiums that
benefit them and to be updated about the latest news information development
in medicine. Pharma industry plays a genuine and helpful part in ultimate patient
care by doing that. However, it is important that it is done properly and done
in a transparent way. It should not be associated with anything, which could
be perceived as inappropriate hospitality or benefits to the doctor.
What are the factors that have influenced the formation
of a new code on ethical marketing practices?
It was clear that it is necessary to have a greater clarity in the way we should
draw lines, in order to protect our reputation. We need to be putting good practices
in place, so that we could clearly demonstrate to our customers that we are
serious about it. And, this led to the revision of the code. A group of people
were put together to identify what the key issues in ethical marketing were.
I was one of the members of the group and I represented AstraZeneca, when we
met on many occasions and redrafted the code. We did the redrafting till we
became sure that we have a new code which fits appropriately. It is important
for a new code to reflect technological changes but also the business as a whole
and pharmaceutical industry. That is why the new code was needed. But the process
Today, patients are becoming much more informed about their medicines. They
are becoming more independent. In the past, a doctor was never questioned. The
environment is changing, as understanding of what constitutes good governance,
is changing. It is right that the code of marketing practices and code of ethics
should change with the changing world and changing expectations.
What areas of marketing practices which come under the
periphery of this code?
There is a preamble of principles for good marketing practices reaffirming that
marketing activities and advertising is good and useful, to improve knowledge
of doctors and subsequently improve patient care. It gives general principles
about the interaction between pharmaceutical companies and healthcare professionals
outlining their benefits to patients.
It talks about the independence of healthcare professionals that should be respected.
That means there should not be any inappropriate influence on them. Companies
should not provide any financial or other benefits in kind, which might inappropriately
influence the prescribing decision of healthcare professional or the doctor.
It should be based solely on the best product for that patient. Then, there
is a whole section focussing on events. Events should have primary, scientific
or educational purpose. These rules apply to all kinds of events, whether promotional
or purely scientific.
It is not appropriate to take doctors outside the country unless it is a truly
international meeting. Otherwise, it would be perceived that the reason for
going for the meeting was for the travel.
There are also rules that spell choice of an appropriate venue. We should not
choose an extravagant or resort type of venues for a meeting. As on to the beginning
of 2007, any entertainment will be banned. So we will not be able to sponsor
any golf events or trips.
What are the gifts that companies can give doctors?
The IFPMA code allows for promotional aids to be given as gifts like pens, sticky
pads and small medical related gifts. It stipulates that those gifts must be
related to the practice of medicine or pharmacy. It must also be something,
which is acceptable and used in the doctor's professional practice and of minimal
value. Pharma companies cannot give gifts for the personal benefit of a doctor.
The new IFPMA code brings in a new category of gift, which has not been separated
out before and that is cultural gifts. There are low value gifts that can be
given during religious festivals. It would be seen rude or against the culture
of that country for companies not to do that.
What is the difference between code of pharmaceutical marketing
practises in India and abroad?
The IFPMA code is the universal code for all the research based pharmaceutical
companies. It is the minimum standard which is applied worldwide. The OPPI is
a member of IFPMA and has always adopted the IFPMA code of practice.
There may be a possibility of additional restrictions, but the same principles
apply throughout the world to research based pharma companies. The specific
requirements for the Indian market are in terms of the promotional material
literature. In India, along with the brand name, companies also have to specify
the generic name and the strength of the formulations.