It was good news for the UK’s Merck Sharp and Dohme yesterday after the country’s industry body – the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry – welcomed it back into the fold, after a three-month suspension for conducting an inappropriate disease management programme.

MSD was suspended from the ABPI in October last year after an investigation into its conduct was sparked by a former sales representative at the firm, who took issue with the process by which a hypertension and diabetes nurse audit disease management programme had been offered to GPs. This service, which was introduced in 2004 and stopped in March last year, was subsequently found by the Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority to be linked to the promotion of a particular drug. But it represented a red card for the UK company, which had already been thrown into the spotlight for entertaining healthcare professionals and their spouses at a meeting “with no clear educational content in an unsuitable venue."

Although the ABPI says the importance of complying its Code has been stressed to all MSD staff, the company’s not quite off the hook yet as it will face a further audit within the next six months to ensure this “progress is being maintained.” For its part, MSD said its readmission “recognises the corrective measures taken by the company.” These included upheavals in its internal approval systems and procedures, re-training the organisation on the Code, and improving its compliance checks so that it can monitor their effectiveness and provide ongoing training.

MSD’s Managing Director, Chris Round, commented: “We regret the situation that led to the breach, which we feel does not present a true reflection of the core ethics and values of our organisation.” The firm has undergone an internal review, plus three external audits thus far.

The ABPI is keen to show its muscle as it seeks to rebuild the industry’s reputation amongst the doctor and patient community, and believes the most effective sanction open to it is to kick companies that fail to meet the standards of its voluntary Code of Practice out from under the umbrella of its membership and to showcase the errors in the medical press.

New pharma marketing code comes into force

Meanwhile, a stricter version of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Association’s Code of Pharmaceutical Marketing Practices has come into play. Rather than being solely country-specific, its influence extends globally and applies to every company listed as a member. The new Code clamps down on hospitality and entertainment of healthcare professionals, as well as sponsorship to international events, and gives more details as to what constitutes an “acceptable gift.”

The IFPMA’s Director-General, Harvey Bale, noted in a statement that the new Code “reflects the industry’s concern to underscore that its life-saving products are promoted in an ethical manner.” Any allegations will be taken up by the IFPMA and, much as with the ABPI, dissenters will by publicly announced as part of a bid to ‘name and shame’ rather than impose financial penalties, which many believe would be less effective.