Four firms have felt the weight of the UK’s Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry bearing down on them after breaking its much stricter Code of Practice, which pharmaceutical companies must adhere to in their dealings and interactions with doctors and other healthcare professionals. Pfizer, Janssen-Cilag and Daiichi Sankyo are all first offenders, but it’s second time round for Merck Sharp & Dohme, which was suspended from the ABPI for a three-month period in October after earlier being publicly berated in the press.

This time, the companies in question have not been suspended from the industry body – as previous culprits Abbott and MSD were – but they have been reprimanded via adverts in the pharmaceutical and medical press as the ABPI believes this is the best punishment open to it in its ambition to improve the image of the industry.

Both Pfizer and MSD were deemed to have breached the Code by linking their provision of medical and educational goods/services to the promotion of medicines when, in the former case, instructing representatives relating to a nurse advisor programme and, latterly, in internal documents discussing a nurse audit programme. Janssen-Cilag breached the Code as, unbeknown to the company, its public relations agency offered to pay journalists to attend a National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence appeal hearing, while Daiichi Sankyo itself confessed to mistakenly re-using an advertisement that had previously been ruled in breach of the Code.

MSD hauled over the coals again

Back in October, MSD was hauled over the coals after a complaint from a former sales representative at the firm, who took issue with the process by which a nurse audit disease management programme had been offered to GPs. This led to the company's suspension, but previously it had been admonished for entertaining health professionals and their spouses at a meeting "with no clear educational content in an unsuitable venue." MSD itself said the investigation had thrown up "the need for some specific internal process improvements," so will likely be very disappointed that a spotlight has been shone on it once more.

Earlier this year, drug group Abbott was also kicked out of the organisation for a six month-period after accusations of inappropriate hospitality for healthcare professionals at meetings that took place in 2004.

The advertisements will appear in the BMJ and The Pharmaceutical Journal in the week ending 23 December, 2006.