Novo Nordisk has received a two-year suspension from membership of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), following “serious breaches” of the ABPI’s code of practice.
Between June 2021 and November 2022, the Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority (PMCPA) investigated a concern over the pharmaceutical company’s sponsorship of a weight management course aimed at training healthcare professionals to set up a weight loss service.
The PMCPA is a self-regulatory body, which was set up in 1993 to operate the code of practice independently of the ABPI.
As part of the training, which was free to attend and had been promoted on LinkedIn, each delegate was offered a one-year patient group direction (PGD) for Novo Nordisk’s Saxenda medicine, also known as liraglutide, which was funded by the pharmaceutical company.
In December 2020, NICE recommended the GLP-1 receptor agonist liraglutide as an option for managing overweight and obesity in adults with a BMI of over 35.
According to the PMCPA’s investigation report, “the provision of funding by Novo Nordisk for the PGD was clearly linked to the promotion of Saxenda; the appeal board did not consider that there could be any intention other than to directly increase the use of Saxenda”.
“Furthermore, as Novo Nordisk accepted, the cost of the PGD to a health professional would usually be £79 if purchased directly from the company that provided clinical services to pharmacists,” the report said.
The report noted that “as of 1 July 2021, 4,399 health professionals had completed the training and 599 PGDs had been activated (13.6% of attendees on the training)”.
As a result, the board concluded that “arrangements relating to the breaches showed a wide-ranging lack of understanding of the requirements of the code and an obfuscation of responsibilities”.
In response to the initial complaint, Novo Nordisk refuted the claim that it had breached the ABPI Code of Practice, saying that it had supported the training course and PGD at arm’s length and had not influenced the content of the training, apart from accuracy checking of the information in relevant parts of the training slides. However, its appeals were unsuccessful.
Susan Rienow, president-elect of the ABPI, said: “The [ABPI] board expressed significant concern about Novo Nordisk’s compliance activities and the very serious issues identified. As a result, the ABPI Board have taken the decision to suspend Novo Nordisk from ABPI membership.
“Such measures are never taken lightly but will ensure a rapid return to industry compliance standards as set out in the ABPI Code of Practice.”
The ABPI said in a statement that this is the eighth time in 40 years that the ABPI has issued a suspension.
A spokesperson for Novo Nordisk said: “While we are disappointed with this outcome, we accept the decision.
“We will continue to strengthen our compliance framework and remain committed to following the ABPI Code of Practice and maintaining the highest possible ethical standards required by the pharmaceutical industry.
“Novo Nordisk will continue to focus our efforts on achieving better outcomes for, and improving the lives of, patients living with serious chronic conditions.”