AUTH/3493/3/21 - Complainant v AbbVie

Promotion of Durysta on social media

  • Received
    22 March 2022
  • Case number
  • Applicable Code year
  • Completed
    10 January 2022
  • Breach Clause(s)
  • Sanctions applied
    Undertaking received
  • Additional sanctions
  • Appeal
    No appeal

Case Summary

A contactable complainant provided screenshots from LinkedIn and alleged that a named employee of AbbVie Limited had promoted Durysta (sustained release bimatoprost implant) to the public. The senior UK employee had ‘liked’ a LinkedIn post from a US eye surgeon which stated that June 23 2020 would go down as a banner day as he/she was among the first in the US to use Durysta after Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. In referring to the Durysta implant, the eye surgeon stated:

‘…This implant slowly releases a medicine in the eye to lower eye pressure and treat glaucoma without eye drops. There is no pain and there are no restrictions after implantation. These are exciting times to be an eye surgeon, and a new era for our patients with glaucoma! #durysta #glaucoma.’

The complainant alleged that the sharing of this information by an AbbVie employee was pre-licence promotion to the public and to doctors within the named employee’s connections.

The detailed response from AbbVie is given below.

The Panel noted AbbVie’s submission that contrary to the allegations raised in the complaint, there was no pending application at the time of AbbVie’s response for a marketing authorisation for Durysta either with the MHRA or with the EMA. In the Panel’s view, the medicine was still, nonetheless, unlicensed in the UK.

The Panel noted, from the screenshot provided by the complainant, that the employee in question was a senior employee and had over 500 connections on LinkedIn. The Panel considered that his/her connections would likely include both health professionals/other relevant decision makers and members of the public.

The Panel noted that the LinkedIn post at issue included the name, indication and claims for the unlicensed medicine Durysta. The Panel considered that the employee’s ‘like’ would have, on the balance of probabilities, proactively disseminated the post to his/her LinkedIn connections which would likely predominantly be within the UK and therefore brought the matter within the scope of the UK Code. The Panel considered that the employee’s activity on LinkedIn constituted the promotion of Durysta prior to the grant of its marketing authorisation and that high standards had not been maintained; breaches of the Code were ruled.

The Panel noted AbbVie’s submission that when the named employee engaged with the relevant social media content, he/she had been trained on the relevant social media policy and had been provided with the social media reference guide. The Panel noted that the social media policy stated ‘Users should not use Social Media in a manner that could be seen as endorsing statements by third parties that may be inconsistent with this Policy or may be otherwise unlawful’. There was, however, no reference in this policy, nor in the quick reference guide, to the activity of ‘liking’ posts on LinkedIn which might subsequently disseminate the information to one’s LinkedIn connections.

The Panel noted that promotion prior to the grant of a marketing authorisation was an example of an activity likely to be in breach of Clause 2. The Panel noted its comments and rulings above, including its concerns with the lack of clear guidance in the company’s social media policy at the time of the activity, the seniority of the named employee, and the clearly promotional claims about Durysta within the ‘liked’ post, and considered that promoting Durysta prior to the grant of its marketing authorisation had brought discredit upon, and reduced confidence in, the pharmaceutical industry and, on balance, a breach of Clause 2 was ruled.