Roche has been found in breach of the ABPI’s Code of Conduct over its late-night alcohol-fuelled antics.

The PMCPA, which polices the UK Code, received an anonymous tip off from a complainant who alleged that two senior employees of Roche Products behaved “inappropriately” whilst attending an overseas medical conference last year.

The complainant alleged that on the Saturday evening of the conference, he witnessed first-hand hospitality “to an excess that he had rarely seen since his days as a house doctor”. 

Whilst enjoying late-night drinks at a traditional nightspot, the complainant stated that he watched as two very senior Roche personnel supplied round after round of shot drinks to their delegation of doctors. He alleged that vodka shots and shots of varying colours “flowed like hot lava, unstoppably”. 

He said the two named Roche employees “revelled way after midnight” with a large group of customers.  The group swelled in size as others joined and the party was "raucous". 

In the complainant’s view this was not good for doctors who were at a scientific meeting to be educated, nor was it good for the reputation of the pharma industry.

The complainant alleged that one employee, who was known in the medical community, “proceeded to jump onto the stage drunk and that in a gesture of defiance he made a buffoon of himself by being physically evicted by door staff”. The complainant considered this unacceptable behaviour outside of a scientific meeting.

The complainant stated that it seemed that Roche “had lost touch with good ethics of late” and had brought the industry into disrepute. The PMCPA did not, however, find Roche guilty of breaching the more serious Clause 2 of the Code - of bringing the industry the industry into disrepute - but did say the firm had failed to maintain high standards.

Roche was also found not to have breached clause 19.1, which concerns the proper provision of hospitality by pharma firms to health professionals.

The accounts about what happened that night differed between Roche and the complainant, who could not be contacted. The Panel said the complainant had therefore not been able to prove their complaint on the balance of probabilities, and could not find the firm in breach of clauses 2 or 19.1 on this basis.

Although Roche is not a member of the ABPI, it has still signed up to follow the Code, and thus can be reprimanded for any breaches. 

‘Concerning behaviour’

The PMCPA Panel noted that the named employees had been drinking until nearly 2am at the bar and dancing at the venue. One of the named employees was in fact later escorted from the venue and was not allowed back into the bar to retrieve his jacket. 

The Panel said this kind of behaviour “attracted much public scrutiny and criticism” and added that pharma companies should be mindful of the impression given by such interactions, even when abroad as other codes might be relevant. 

The Panel was “very concerned” about the behaviour of Roche employees at a social venue which they knew UK health professionals were in attendance. Because of this, the Panel found Roche in breach of the Code regarding the maintenance of high standards – the Swiss firm appealed against this decision, but was overruled.

The Appeal Board said it “was particularly concerned” about the removal of one employee from the premises who had not been allowed to retrieve his own belongings and the impression created which it considered was “unacceptable”. 

The circumstances amounted to a failure to maintain high standards and the Appeal Board upheld the Panel’s ruling of a breach of Clause 9.1 of the Code. Roche has admitted that the complainant's account of the drunken antics of its employees were "factually correct", and this will come as a major embarrassment for the company.