A damning report on the pharmaceutical industries marketing practices, issued by lobby group Consumers International, has called for governments around the world to tighten controls on drugmakers.

There is a ‘shocking lack of publicly available information’ about the $60 billion spent each year by drug companies on marketing and promotion of their products, according to CI, which is an umbrella group representing consumer organisations around the world.

“Transparent information about pharmaceutical marketing is vital if consumers are to be fully informed about the appropriateness of the drugs they are being sold and prescribed,” according to CI, which is concerned about the drug industry’s use of patient pressure groups, disease awareness campaigns and offering of hospitality to medical experts.

“Yet the top-twenty drug companies refuse to provide information about how these increasingly common practices feature in their marketing codes of conduct,” it asserts. Only one of the firms studied, Orion Pharma, provided specific marketing budget information.

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry claims that the UK industry’s recently-updated, voluntary Code of Practice on the promotion and marketing of medicines provides a safeguard against this type of practice that goes beyond any legal requirement, pointing out there is also a need for new medicines to be brought to the attention of prescribers.

In February, for example, Abbott Laboratories was suspended from ABPI membership for six months for practices deemed to ‘bring discredit on, or reduce confidence in, the pharmaceutical industry’, and there has been a steady increase in the number of cases in which companies had filed complains against fellow drugmakers to draw attention to breaches.

But CI insists industry self-regulation in this area does not go far enough. “Large numbers of serious, recent and repeated breaches of marketing codes were found, especially regarding prescription drug advertising,” it claims.

Nineteen of the twenty companies assessed by CI are obligated under the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries (EFPIA) Code of Practice on the Promotion of Medicines to clear all promotional materials before they are released, according to the consumer watchdog. But only four companies - AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Novartis and Roche - have clear corporate procedures for doing so, it says.

However, David Fisher, Commercial Director of the ABPI told PharmaTimes World News that the report is irrelevant in the UK. “It cannot be seen as truly representative of the pharmaceutical industry in Europe, because the study was carried out only in the Czech Republic, Denmark, Greece, Hungary, Finland and Slovenia. The major assertions about lack of transparency and weak regulation certainly do not apply in the UK....our industry is tightly regulated by a combination of legal statutes, and by the Code of Practice, which is a completely transparent process."

The new report - branding the Cure: a consumer perspective on Corporate Social Responsibility, Drug Promotion and the Pharmaceutical Industry, was launched yesterday at an event in Athens, Greece.

For more details and to download a free copy of the report, visit Consumers International’s website.