AUTH/3333/4/20 - Health professional v Novo Nordisk

Promotion of Saxenda at a medical aesthetic event

  • Received
    20 April 2020
  • Case number
  • Applicable Code year
  • Completed
    09 December 2020
  • No breach Clause(s)
  • Breach Clause(s)
  • Sanctions applied
    Undertaking received
  • Additional sanctions
  • Appeal
    Appeal by respondent

Case Summary

An anonymous individual, who described him/herself as a health professional, complained about the promotion of Saxenda (liraglutide) directly to the public by Novo Nordisk. Saxenda was indicated as an adjunct to a reduced-calorie diet and increased physical activity for weight management in certain adult patients.

The complainant stated that in October 2019 he/she attended a medical aesthetic exhibition which was attended by health professionals, as well as very large numbers of aesthetic practitioners who were not medical or health professionals. The complainant noted that Novo Nordisk, had a large stand which promoted the prescription only medicine Saxenda and that Saxenda leaflets were given to visitors at the stand. Although several other pharmaceutical companies exhibited, no other promoted a prescription only medicine. The complainant stated that although he/she did not take much notice of it at the time, numerous clients at his/her clinic had now asked for this medicine. The complainant stated that he/she was very uncomfortable that a long-established company was so brazen as to promote its medicine at an event which was clearly attended, in large numbers, by those who were not health professionals.

The detailed response from Novo Nordisk is given below.

The Panel considered that it was very important that the arrangements for exhibition stands promoting prescription only medicines at meetings with a mixed audience of health professionals and others were such that prescription only medicines were not promoted to the public.

The Panel noted that according to the conference group organiser, of the 3,754, 2019 conference attendees 84% were health professionals. The remaining 16% included press (2%) and ‘other’ (14%). The ‘other’ category was comprised of supplier, nutritionist, association, marketing/PR and receptionist/PA. The Panel noted that it appeared that not all of the conference attendees were health professionals or other relevant decision makers. The Panel noted Novo Nordisk’s submission that all delegates had access to the exhibition area but Novo Nordisk staff scanned the delegates’ badges to confirm whether a delegate was a health professional or other relevant decision maker before having a discussion about Saxenda with them. According to Novo Nordisk, the only materials available on the stand were copies of the Saxenda SPC; a single copy was displayed on the stand and copies were provided on request to health professionals visiting the stand. The Panel did not have a copy of representatives’ briefing material for those manning the exhibition stand.

The Panel noted that the Novo Nordisk exhibition stand would be seen by all congress attendees irrespective of whether they attended the stand. The exhibition stand was headed ‘The first GLP-1 analogue that is indicated for weight management as an adjunct to exercise’ followed by ‘Help your patients WITH OBESITY get the WEIGHT REDUCTIONS they need’ in larger blue font. The stand included a number of claims for Saxenda including secondary improvements in cardiometabolic risk factors which meant that Saxenda had been promoted to the public and a breach of the Code was ruled. On appeal by Novo Nordisk, noting all the circumstances and on balance, the Appeal Board did not consider that on the evidence available that Novo Nordisk had in the particular circumstances of this case promoted Saxenda to the public. The Appeal Board ruled no breach of the Code. The appeal on this point was successful.

The Panel considered that it was difficult to understand why if the company had taken steps to ensure that promotional conversations were only held with health professionals it had considered that it was acceptable to use a promotional stand which included eye catching visuals and claims about a prescription only medicine visible to all, including those who were not health professionals or other relevant decision makers. It was foreseeable that such individuals might attend an aesthetics event. The Panel considered that high standards had not been maintained and a breach of the Code was ruled. On appeal by Novo Nordisk, the Appeal Board upheld the Panel’s ruling in this regard.

The Panel noted its comments in relation to its ruling of failing to maintain high standards. The Panel noted that the exhibition panel in question was certified in October 2018 as a promotional stand for ‘conferences, lunchtime meetings and exhibitions’. It had thus been certified for general promotional use and it did not appear that consideration had been given to the use of the stand at the event in question where it might be seen by members of the public. The Panel was very concerned about the use of the stand at the meeting in question. The Panel considered that the particular circumstances of this case warranted a ruling of a breach of Clause 2 the Code and, on balance, a breach was ruled. On appeal by Novo Nordisk, the Appeal Board did not consider that the circumstances warranted such a ruling and thus ruled no breach of Clause 2.