Breaches in advertising for prescription-only medicines have dropped in the last year, according to the second annual report from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency’s Advertising Standards Unit.

Overall, the Agency received 199 complaints about medicines advertising for the year 2006/7, which is actually a 16% increase over the previous year but is entirely down to a higher number of complaints about advertising for botulinum toxin products for cosmetic use, it said.

However, both the number of complaints regarding prescription-only medicines and the number of cases upheld - eight out of 15 - have fallen from 2005/6 (53% upheld versus 65%, respectively), primarily because of increased vetting of launch materials for innovative products and other measures designed to prevent potential breaches before they occur.

Furthermore, the Agency points out: “It is particularly noticeable that the number of corrective statements has decreased”, from eight to two. “Correction is required when a misleading advertisement is considered to pose a serious risk to public health, so this decrease suggests that there have been fewer serious breaches.”

The two corrective statements required this year concerned misleading advertising by Alk-Abello for a hay fever treatment, which failed to clarify that only physicians with experience in treatment of allergic diseases can start therapy, and Merz Pharma’s supply of promotional samples of an unlicensed drug to doctors.

Committee recommendations
According to the MHRA, the fall in serious breaches during the year is largely the result of successful implementation of certain recommendations made in the House of Common’s Health Committee report on the influence of the pharmaceutical industry, particularly the vetting of advertising for new active substances before it is released.

“Effective regulation targets high-risk areas and so it is particularly pleasing to see the reduction in serious breaches of the legislation in the prescription sector in the last year and to be able to associate that with the increased focus on targeted vetting of advertising by the MHRA,” commented Kent Woods, the agency’s chief executive.

However, he also stressed that “advertising is an important way of communicating about medicines, and advertisers need to ensure that recipients are provided with enough information to prescribe, supply or use the advertised product appropriately”.