An anonymous, non-contactable health professional complained about the arrangements for a meeting organised by Astellas Pharma Europe, in Milan, February 2014.
The complainant noted that Astellas had invited him/her and colleagues to a meeting in Milan, to obtain advice about prostate cancer. More than 100 other clinicians were at this large advisory board meeting and Astellas presented the benefits of its medicine an unlicensed indication for enzalutamide. The complainant alleged that Astellas was not truthful as to why delegates had been invited to the meeting and the company promoted something it should not have done.
The detailed response from Astellas Europe is given below.
The Panel noted that Astellas Europe’s submission that the most practical, effective and expedient way to quickly gather a group of advising urologists, oncologists and uro-oncologists from a number of countries with the two expert speakers was to hold the advisory board meetings in one European location, rather than to organise separate advisory boards in individual countries. The Panel considered that holding multiple simultaneous local advisory board meetings overseas, in one central location would not necessarily be unacceptable providing all the aspects complied with the Code. There had to be valid and cogent reasons for holding meetings at venues outside the UK. In this regard, the Panel noted that the UK health professionals were not otherwise attending an international meeting or other event in Milan. The Panel queried whether the availability of the two speakers was an adequate justification given the nature of the meeting and that local experts on the data were available for each advisory board.
The Panel noted this was the third such meeting held by Astellas. The previous two meetings had taken place before and immediately after the initial marketing authorization of Xtandi in the treatment of adult men with metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer whose disease had progressed on or after docetaxel therapy. The meeting at issue was held prior to the grant of the marketing authorization for a new indication for the treatment of men with metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer who were asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic after failure of androgen deprivation therapy in whom chemotherapy was not yet clinically indicated.
The Panel queried whether the contents of the two previous meetings held in 2012 and 2013 were as distinct as submitted by Astellas. Whilst one advisory board was in the post-chemotherapy indication, the objectives were, nonetheless, similar to the advisory board at issue. Given the advice previously received, the Panel queried whether there remained a bona fide need for advice such as to justify the meeting in question.
The Panel noted the criteria and process for the selection of experts. The Panel noted that participants at advisory board meetings would reasonably be expected to have sufficient expertise and experience in the relevant disease area that their contribution would be beyond that of simply having experience of treating patients for that particular disease and certainly be relevant to the advice sought by the company. The Panel considered that the number of local experts identified seemed quite large and queried whether participation was driven by who could attend as opposed to who should attend to provide Astellas with appropriate advice.
Participants were not required to do any prereading or other preparation. The meeting had two distinct sections; the first section lasted just over 2 hours and included presentations from the two speakers on ‘The role of the androgen receptor signalling pathway in mCRPC [metastatic castration resistant prostate cancer]’ and ‘Enzalutamide in mCRPC’. Astellas submitted these ensured a common understanding of new treatment options and the Phase 3 data. Both presentations were followed by 25 minute Q&A sessions. The second section of the meeting lasted for 2 hours and 25 minutes. Attendees were split into their respective country/regional advisory board meetings where over 2 hours, 10 minutes they completed two exercises. Firstly, to differentiate enzalutamide from competitors in the proposed target patient population and secondly, to look at current prescribing practice across the patient pathway in mCRPC including where enzalutamide might fit into that pathway now and in the future.
The Panel noted Astellas’ submission that two thirds of the total time was dedicated to seeking advice. This included the two Q&A sessions, which the Panel considered were for the attendees to ask questions such that they were equipped to participate in the advisory boards rather than a means of providing advice to the company. The time allocated for the provision of advice was therefore less than fifty percent of the total meeting time.
The Panel considered that it would have been helpful if the data could have been sent in advance as pre-reading so that participants could have come prepared to provide advice at the outset. The Panel further noted that Astellas’ company attendees included, a data expert for each national advisory board meeting and noted its comments above in this regard about the availability of the speakers. The Panel accepted that it was important that participants understood the data and this might be particularly relevant given the different approaches to treating prostate cancer be that by urologists or oncologists. It was concerned that this was listed as one of the three objectives for the meeting. The Panel noted, however, that the sole purpose of advisory board meetings should be to gain advice from the participants; the presentation of current data should not be the primary reason to attend.
The Panel examined the meeting report and was concerned to note that 75 questions were raised following the presentations and many of these did not appear to be related to Astellas’ submission of the need for a common understanding of the data. Further, the plenary session was rated as the most useful/valuable aspect of the meeting by 38.8% of health professional respondents with the panel discussion scoring 27.1% and the discussion with colleagues from the same country scoring 34.1%. The audience was asked to suggest interesting topics that could be the focus of future meetings. Company feedback included ‘ideal opportunity to be with KOLs’, ‘… the advisers provided useful insights’, ‘they … want to know more relevant information about enzalutamide and research with it’ and ‘working groups are not always well accepted’. The feedback from both groups included a comment about sending material for pre-reading and further time for discussion.
The Panel noted that the provision of advice related to the completion of the two exercises. The information provided to each group for the first exercise consisted of a document entitled ‘Differentiating enzalutamide in mCRPC’ below the heading was the sentence ‘Please see below statements, based on the PREVAIL data, to be used as reference during the ranking exercise’. The Panel was concerned about the universally positive nature of the statements in relation to enzalutamide. It appeared that participants were only assessing the impact of potential promotional claims. The second exercise was another group workmat based exercise. The workmat was headed ‘Place in patient pathway: Progression on ADT, chemotherapy naïve’. A workmat was to be completed for four treatments. At the end of each exercise the facilitator was instructed to ask whether any other features of enzalutamide that had not been covered were particularly relevant to the UK. There was no mention on any of the materials submitted for the national meeting that the information provided or the data was for an unlicensed indication.
The Panel considered that as the exercises were to be completed by the UK attendees as a group, consensus would have to be reached to complete the workmats. As such, the views of some of the participants might not be documented or taken into consideration. Further, the Panel noted the exercises could perhaps be carried out individually or prepared individually prior to a joint discussion. Given its comments above, the Panel did not consider that attending the presentations constituted a valid and cogent reason for holding the meeting outside the UK. The Panel was concerned that the time spent obtaining advice was low, less than 50% of the total meeting time and further no preparation was needed. The attendees worked as a group to provide one view. The Panel noted its comments above about the arrangements, content and feedback for the meeting. The Panel did not consider that the arrangements were such that the UK health professionals had attended a genuine advisory board meeting and therefore ruled a breach of the Code.
The Panel considered that, as it had ruled the arrangements did not meet the criteria for advisory boards, UK health professionals had been paid to attend a meeting where an unlicensed indication was promoted. As Xtandi was licensed in the UK the Panel considered that the arrangements constituted promotion of an unlicensed indication and not promotion of an unlicensed medicine. It therefore ruled no breach of the Code in this regard. It could not make a ruling regarding the promotion of an unlicensed indication as the relevant clause had not been cited by the case preparation manager.
The Panel noted that UK health professionals had received payment to attend a meeting which the Panel considered promoted the medicine and a breach of the Code was ruled. The Panel considered that the requirement that promotional material and activities must not be disguised had not been met and ruled a breach of the Code. High standards had not been maintained and the Panel ruled a breach of the Code.
The Panel noted that Clause 2 was reserved for use as a sign of particular censure. The health professionals had attended the meeting believing it was a legitimate advisory board meeting, which was not so. In addition, they had received a payment for attending a promotional meeting for an indication which at the time did not have marketing authorization. The Panel noted that unacceptable payments was listed in the supplementary information to Clause 2 as an example of an activity likely to be in breach of that clause. The Panel considered that the arrangements brought discredit upon and reduced confidence in the pharmaceutical industry. A breach of Clause 2 was ruled.
The Panel noted its comments and rulings above and considered that its concerns about the arrangements and the company’s procedures warranted consideration by the Appeal Board. The Panel thus reported Astellas Europe to the Appeal Board in accordance with Paragraph 8.2 of the Constitution and Procedure.
The Appeal Board noted the Panel’s ruling that the Astellas Europe’s Pan-European Uro-oncology Advisory Board Meeting was not a genuine advisory board meeting. The Appeal Board noted that the meeting clearly promoted Xtandi for an unlicensed indication to UK health professionals. In response to a question Astellas Europe stated that the meeting at issue had been held within a few days of the first presentation of the data at a conference. Astellas Europe accepted that the meeting had not met the criteria for advisory boards as required by the Code or its own standard operating procedures (SOPs), and in that regard the Appeal Board was very concerned that either the company’s SOPs were not sufficiently clear or had not been followed. The arrangements and material had been certified by Astellas Europe rather than the UK affiliate and in that regard the Appeal Board questioned the rigour of the company’s processes and procedures. Improvements needed to be made and should be a priority. The Appeal Board noted that the representatives from Astellas Europe referred on a number of occasions to recognising, with hindsight that its activities could be seen as promotional. The Appeal Board noted Astellas Europe’s submission that it had undertaken a number of measures to address the issues. The Appeal Board also noted that the company had accepted all the Panel’s rulings of breaches of the Code including Clause 2.
The Appeal Board was concerned that the UK health professionals had attended the meeting on the understanding that it was an advisory board and had been paid to do so. This was unacceptable. Consequently, the Appeal Board decided, in accordance with Paragraph 11.3 of the Constitution and Procedure to require Astellas Europe to issue a corrective statement to all the UK attendees at the meeting. The corrective statement should refer to the case report. Under Paragraph 11.3 details of the proposed content and mode and timing of dissemination of the corrective statement must be provided to the Appeal Board for approval prior to use.