16 March 2015 by Alexandra Jones
New research has found that the pharmaceutical industry continues to violate its system of self-regulation, which is intended to avoid the unethical marketing of drugs.
The study, from Lund University in Sweden, investigated judgments from pharmaceutical self-regulation bodies in the UK and Sweden from 2004 to 2012. It found 597 and 536 cases respectively of marketing that violated the industry’s own regulations – equating to on average one breach per week in both countries.
Over half of the cases studied relate to misleading marketing. For example, some claims made about drugs were found to lack medical evidence and in other cases the violation concerned marketing of prescription medications, which is prohibited in the EU.
In 20% of cases, the violation of the regulations was judged to be severe.
‘There is clearly a discrepancy between the ethical rules and what companies are actually doing’, said Shai Mulinari, a researcher in both social sciences and medicine who led the study.
‘Unethical advertising does lead to fines, but the sums are very low in proportion to the pharmaceutical industry’s revenue: 0.01% of annual sales in Sweden and 0.005% in the UK.’
Dr Mulinari believes that higher fines and more publicity of the judgments could serve as an incentive to the pharmaceutical industry to improve its behaviour. He also feels that doctors should take action: ‘It is important that doctors report impropriety, otherwise all responsibility is left to the industry.’