AUTH/3287/12/19 - Employee v UCB

Personal LinkedIn Profile

  • Received
    13 December 2019
  • Case number
  • Applicable Code year
  • Completed
    27 March 2020
  • No breach Clause(s)
  • Breach Clause(s)
  • Sanctions applied
    Undertaking received
  • Additional sanctions
  • Appeal
    No appeal
  • Review
    To be published in the review

Case Summary

An anonymous, non-contactable UCB employee complained about the openly accessible LinkedIn profile of one of his/her colleagues in which the colleague described his/her role at UCB as ‘Supporting Phase 3 programme in axial spondyloarthropathy for bimekizumab’.

The complainant explained that bimekizumab was currently at a late stage of clinical development and he/she expected that UCB would appreciate any pre-licence interest which could be drummed up before the marketing authorization was granted.

The complainant submitted that the colleague’s connections (who were automatically notified of his/her new role at UCB via a LinkedIn algorithm) appeared to include health professionals and the general public alike, irrespective of any interest either group might have in axial spondyloarthropathy or bimekizumab.

The complainant noted that his/her colleague’s LinkedIn page did not contain the requisite prescribing information or black triangle which the Code required for promotional material. The complainant queried whether the LinkedIn post had been formally certified either as promotional material or as information on medicines for the public. Further, no information was provided on bimekizumab for the general public on the LinkedIn profile page which the complainant understood was required for promotional materials on the Internet.

Finally, the complainant alleged that UCB had a poor internal compliance culture and that whistle-blowers were not tolerated.

The detailed response from UCB is given below.

The Panel noted that complex compliance challenges arose when the personal use of social media by pharmaceutical company employees overlapped with their professional responsibilities or the interests of the company. LinkedIn was a business and employment-oriented network and was primarily, although not exclusively, associated with an individual’s professional heritage and current employment interests. In the Panel’s view, it was not unacceptable for pharmaceutical company employees to use personal LinkedIn accounts although they needed to be mindful of the compliance issues that might arise. The Code would not automatically apply to all activity on a LinkedIn account; whether the Code applied would be determined on a case-by-case basis, taking into account all of the circumstances including, inter alia, content and who had posted the material.

The Panel noted UCB’s submission that the statement on its employee’s LinkedIn account was not a job title but a description of the individual’s responsibilities, created independently by him/her with no instruction from or knowledge of UCB; the individual had explained that his/her LinkedIn profile was created with the intent to showcase his/her clinical experience and generate future work. The Panel noted UCB’s submission that the individual’s privacy settings would prevent the statement being automatically disseminated and that it would only be visible within the individual’s profile once it had been proactively searched for or selected to view. In that regard, however, the Panel considered that as LinkedIn was mainly used for professional networking, including job seekers posting their CVs, the majority of those using the platform would view the whole of an individual’s profile. The Panel further noted that the individual had clearly intended, and expected, the statement to be read. UCB had also submitted in mitigation that the statement did not go beyond information publicly available (eg via website) but in that regard the Panel considered that the context in which the information was provided was important. In this case the information was not on a clinical trials website but had been made available on an individual’s LinkedIn profile.

The Panel considered that the statement ‘Supporting Phase 3 programme in axial spondyloarthropathy for bimekizumab’ promoted an unlicensed medicine – both the name of the medicine and an indication had been provided and a breach of the Code was ruled. The use of the statement had not been certified and a further breach of the Code was ruled.

The Panel noted that as bimekizumab was unlicensed there was no summary of product characteristics available and so there could be no prescribing information. In that regard the Panel considered that the requirement to provide prescribing information was not relevant and so it ruled no breach of the Code. The Code required promotional material to include a prominent statement to encourage the reporting of adverse events and when required by the licensing authority an inverted equilateral black triangle to denote that additional monitoring was required in relation to adverse reactions. Given that bimekizumab was not licensed and so not available to prescribe outside of clinical trials, the Panel considered that those requirements were not relevant and ruled no breaches of the Code.

The Panel considered that, on the balance of probabilities, some of those who read the employee’s LinkedIn profile would not be health professionals or other relevant decision makers. The Panel noted that the Code prohibited the promotion of a prescription only medicine to the public and stated that information made available to the public about prescription only medicines must be factual and presented in a balanced way. The Panel noted, however, that as bimekizumab was not licensed, it was not classified as a prescription only medicine and, on that very narrow technical point, the Panel ruled no breach of the Code.

The Panel noted its rulings above and considered that high standards had not been maintained. A breach of the Code was ruled. The Panel considered that to include the name of a medicine and an indication for its use on a personal LinkedIn profile showed a lack of awareness of the requirements of the Code. Further, the promotion of an unlicensed medicine was a serious matter and one which had the potential to be ruled in breach of Clause 2 of the Code, a sign of particular censure. The Panel considered, however, given that the statement at issue appeared on a professional networking site and that the majority of those who searched for it might reasonably be assumed to have a professional interest in the matter, that on balance there had been no breach of Clause 2 and it ruled accordingly.