This week, details of serious breaches of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry Code of Practice by Roche, relating to its sales of the prescription obesity drug Xenical to private diet clinics, have appeared in advertisements in the medical and pharmaceutical press, and the medicines regulator has reported that its criminal investigation into Roche’s actions is still ongoing.

The ads, which appear in the current issues of the British Medical Journal (BMJ) and the Pharmaceutical Journal, relate to the company’s “inappropriate supply” of Xenical (orlistat) during 2003-5 to private slimming and weight-loss clinics run by Robin Huxley in Barnsley.

By selling a prescription-only medicine to a member of the public and agreeing to provide £55,000 to Mr Huxley to purchase another private diet clinic, Roche had breached a number of the Code’s clauses, including Clause 2, which deals with actions “bringing discredit upon, and reducing confidence in, the pharmaceutical industry,” according to a ruling by the Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority (PCMPA), which operates the Code at arm’s length from the ABPI. The PMCPA advertises in the medical and pharmaceutical press brief details of all cases where companies are ruled in breach of Clause 2 of the Code, required to issue a corrective statement or are the subject of a public reprimand.

In July, the case led to Roche being publicly reprimanded and suspended from membership of the ABPI for at least six months, and in March, a prosecution brought by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) against Mr Huxley was heard at Sheffield Crown Court. The Court was told that Mr Huxley is not a health professional but that he worked from May 2001 to March 2005 in the pharmaceutical industry, where he “used his knowledge and expertise” to obtain large quantities of Xenical and Abbott Laboratories’ obesity drug Reductil (sibutramine). He then went on to sell the drugs in his clinics without any of his clients having been given a prescription or an appropriate medical consultation.

Mr Huxley pleaded guilty to five counts under the Medicines Act 1968 and received a 14-month prison sentence.

Commenting to PharmaTimes yesterday, a spokeswoman for the MHRA said that the evidence held by the agency in its criminal investigation concerning Roche and Mr Huxley is currently being reviewed and that it will also examine any new evidence which may come to light as part of the investigation.

“A report will be then submitted to government prosecution lawyers, once our investigation has concluded,” she said, adding: “as this is an ongoing investigation, the MHRA is unable to disclose any further details at this time."