Merck Sharp & Dohme Ltd (MSD) recently engaged in a campaign to promote its prescription blood pressure drug, Cozaar, by offering physicians blood pressure screening services, but only for those doctors who prescribed Cozaar. Offering the service on such a restricted basis violated clause two of the industry's code of conduct.
The investigation, which was conducted by the Panel of the Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority (PMCPA), found that MSD's campaign -- dubbed "Cozaar Nurse Audit Programme" -- included use of logos for the company's drug on slides used to explain the program. The investigation turned up internal company documents that decisively link the program to the promotion of Cozaar, which the PMCPA calls "totally unacceptable."
Nigel Brooksby, president of the ABPI, said the UK pharmaceutical industry requires the "highest possible ethical standards" in its relationships with stockholders and healthcare workers. "Breaches of the code are viewed in the most serious possible light, and this is reflected in the suspension," Brooksby said. MSD's suspension will be for a minimum of three months, and will include denial of involvement with the ABPI, which is the trade association for 75 UK drug firms.
MSD managing director Chris Round said, "We view the findings of a breach by the PMCPA very seriously and regret this situation, which we feel does not present a true reflection of the core ethics and values of our organization. We are working hard to reaffirm our core values and standards, and restore confidence and pride in our business practices."
However, pharmaceutical industry critics say wealthy drug firms are frequently guilty of ethics violations. "This breach of basic medical ethics may be outrageous, but it certainly isn't surprising," said health author and drug company critic Mike Adams, author of "Take Back Your Health Power," a guide for living free of prescription drugs.
"Like every other drug company, Merck is interested primarily in profits," Adams said. "Merck's blood pressure screening services were simply a patient recruiting scheme to sell more high-profit pharmaceuticals."