Pharmaceutical and medical device companies are illegally advertising their products on YouTube, according to an industry watchdog, which has filed a series of petitions asking the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to remove them.

Six videos should be removed immediately from the YouTube Internet supersite because they appear to have been posted by manufacturers but do not include the warning statements required by the FDA, says the Prescription Project group. It has launched six citizen petitions urging the FDA to remove the videos – four of which are posted by Abbott Laboratories for its XIENCE-V drug eluting stent, plus one for Medtronic’s Prestige Cervical Disc and one for Stryker’s Cormet Hip Resurfacing Technology.

As well as removing the ads, the petitions say the FDA should require the companies to post “curative” ads which contain the necessary risk information, and also:

- advise all major prescription drug manufacturers and medical device makers that on-line/Internet advertisements and promotions for their projects are subject to the same requirements as those appearing in other media, and recommend that they review their on-line ads for compliance: and

- issue a Guidance on Consumer-Directed Broadcast Advertising of Prescription Drugs and Restricted Devices on the Internet, to clarify how federal law and FDA regulations apply to on-line drug and device promotions.

“Whether through a TV ad or an Internet video, the promotion of a medical device for use in complex surgery without adequate warnings is a blatant violation of the law and could put lives at risk,” said Allan Coukell, director of policy for the Prescription Project. “The videos raise serious questions about whether drug and device companies are using the Internet to skirt laws that safeguard consumers,” he warned.

The ads are likely to have been seen by a wide audience. A 2007 survey found that around 80% of Internet users have looked on-line for health information, and a Manhattan Research poll published last month found that 83% of physicians watch video clips on-line, compared to 34% of all US adults, says the group.

Making the problem of Internet ads failing to include the proper risk information worse is the fact that consumers injured by medical devices can no longer sue the manufacturers for failing to warn them about known but undisclosed risks, as a result of last February’s Supreme Court decision in Riegel vs Medtronic, says the Project. Consumers injured by prescription drugs will lose the same right if the Supreme Court judges issue a similar ruling in Wyeth vs Levine, which came to the court last month, it adds.