pharmaceutical advertising

The Holiday season of 2023 proved to be a busy one for innovative pharmaceutical companies in the UK and their legal and regulatory teams.

UK pharmaceutical companies are already number-crunching through two new price control systems for 2024 (please see our blog and audiocast).  In addition to the UK pricing regime changing, there are proposals to update advertising rules and the procedure for adjudicating upon advertising complaints.   

On 13 December 2023, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (“ABPI”) published proposals to update the 2021 ABPI Code of Practice for the Pharmaceutical Industry (“ABPI Code”) and the Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority (“PMCPA”) Constitution and Procedure (which sets out the procedure for adjudicating upon advertising complaints).  Companies have until 29 February 2024 to contribute to the consultation.

Many of the proposed changes to the ABPI Code are clarificatory in nature, but the planned changes to the complaints process may be of particular interest to in-house legal teams.  These changes are designed to make the PMCPA complaints process less formulaic and more flexible.  This could help manage relatively straightforward cases with greater efficiency, whilst also accommodating for cases which involve serious allegations and/or complex facts.  If implemented as proposed, the changes are likely to give PMCPA cases a more judicial or legalistic feel, particularly when it comes to case management.Continue Reading Consultation on Changes to the ABPI Code and UK Advertising Complaints Process

As highlighted in our recent series of blog posts (please see our Inside EU Life Sciences blog series here), the European Commission has at long last published its proposal to overhaul EU legislation for human medicinal products. 

On 26 April 2023, the Commission published its proposal for a new human medicines directive (the “Proposed Directive”) to replace the current European Medicines Directive (Directive 2001/83/EC); as well as a regulation for centrally authorised medicines (the “Proposed Regulation”) to replace the current Regulation 726/2004. 

Medicines advertising and promotion rules are of key interest to pharmaceutical companies operating in the EU.  This blog looks into how the new legislative proposal might affect the advertising landscape, focusing on the Proposed Directive (whose advertising provisions also apply to products covered under the Proposed Regulation).

For those of you who are perhaps breathless from the suite of new proposals, advertising and promotion may appear to be one small area to exhale in relief.  However, some of the proposed changes may have significant practical implications, particularly for comparative advertising.

The headline news is that – for advertising – the Proposed Directive largely maintains the status quo.  It remains aligned almost entirely with the current framework, supplementing rather than revolutionizing current law. 

The evolutionary approach is unsurprising.  EU-level law is really only the “tip” of the proverbial “iceberg” when it comes to pharmaceutical advertising in Europe.  Many operational rules are nationally diverse, and found in national laws, codes and rulings.  Moreover, in practice, pharmaceuticals advertising is often largely governed and enforced through the self-regulatory system and self-regulatory codes, such as the Code of Practice of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (the “EFPIA Code”) and its various national incarnations.  The Explanatory Memorandum to the Proposed Directive suggests legislators have tried to avoid overhauling the intricate framework regulating advertising. Nevertheless, the Proposed Directive does make some changes to advertising rules.  Most are generally uncontroversial and/or “tidy ups”; but others may be more significant, particularly supplementing the definition of “advertising” and new provisions on comparative advertising. Continue Reading EU Pharma Legislation Review Series: Advertising Updates Reflect Evolution Rather than Revolution

Tune into the third episode of Covington’s Life Sciences Audiocast, where Grant Castle, Stefanie Doebler, and Raj Gathani discuss social media challenges for pharma companies in Europe and the U.S.

On 26 January 2023, the UK’s Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority (“PMCPA”) published its “Social Media Guidance 2023” (the “Guidance”).

The Guidance is the first of its kind in the UK and is long-awaited. 

The PMCPA is the self-regulatory body that administers and enforces the ABPI Code (the voluntary advertising code that many pharmaceutical companies adhere to in the UK).  The ABPI Code sets out a number of overarching principles but does not address social media in detail.  The PMCPA had some years ago published “digital guidelines” but these were archived for updating.

The first – and probably most important – thing to say about the Guidance is that it (finally) exists.  Social media has become a major compliance headache for UK pharmaceutical companies.  These days a significant number of PMCPA complaints, investigations and adjudications concern corporate or employee social media activity, particularly on LinkedIn.  The absence of clear and codified guidance until now led to a lack of clarity.  Key regulatory principles had evolved through a series of case rulings, which were often highly fact-dependent.  While dissecting cases into the early hours may be interesting for us pharmaceutical advertising lawyers, compliance teams will likely appreciate having codified guidelines to refer to.

Secondly, the Guidance is likely to disappoint anyone hoping for seismic shifts in the PMCPA’s regulatory approach.  Much of the Guidance aligns closely to rules and principles that had developed in the Authority’s case history.  It also broadly aligns with EFPIA’s and IFPMA’s recently published “Guidelines Concerning the Use of Social Media and Digital Media Channels” (see our blog post).Continue Reading UK PMCPA Publishes First Ever Guidance to Pharmaceutical Companies about Social Media

On 22 December 2022, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) — sitting in Grand Chamber — published its judgement in case C-530, Euroaptieka. The judgement adds further commentary to the meaning of “advertising medicinal products” in the EU and the competencies of EU Member States to restrict drug advertising activities. The judgement has particular implications for advertising “unspecified medicinal products”. No doubt, this judgement will be of interest to pharmaceutical companies and pharmacies looking at the communications activities they carry out in the EU and the risks entailed.Continue Reading CJEU Rules on the Advertising of “Unspecified Medicinal Products” in the EU

On 28 September 2022, the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) and European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) published joint guidelines concerning the use of social media and digital media channels by pharmaceutical companies (Joint Digital Guidelines).  IFPMA  and EFPIA are umbrella trade bodies for the innovative pharmaceutical industry on the global and European stages, respectively.

The Joint Digital Guidelines are timely.  Digital communications and the use of social media have become hot compliance topics for the pharmaceutical industry, both in Europe and globally.  Actors in the healthcare world increasingly use digital communication channels; many clinicians, patients and patient organizations actually prefer to receive content digitally.  With more content comes higher compliance risk.  Digital communications, particularly over social media, can spread fast across borders and are often publicly accessible. 

It is no surprise that a very significant number of pharmaceutical advertising cases in European markets now concern digital channels or social media.  This certainly reflects our experience; and this is an area where our pharmaceutical advertising experts are continually advising clients.Continue Reading IFPMA and EFPIA Publish New Joint Guidance Note on Social Media and Digital Channels