New code of practice for pharma freebies

16 January 2019

On 1 January 2019, the new code of practice of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) came into effect. The code, which was first introduced in 1981, has been revised five times since its first launch. The IFPMA claims the latest update has raised the compliance bar to its highest ever and includes two important changes. The first of these is a ban on gifts and promotional aids (termed ‘goodies’) for prescription medicines wherever IFPMA member companies operate. Secondly, it introduces a shift from a rules-based approach to a values-based code, which aims to instil a culture of ethics and integrity in the industry.

The change in guidance with regards to “goodies” was an attempt to eliminate exceptions that allowed customary gifts to mark national, cultural or religious events. The IFPMA specifically referenced two of them in their code of practice: mooncakes and condolence payments, both of which are traditional in China.

“The ban reflects pharma industry’s commitment towards the general concern that the promotional items trivialise the important, professional relationship that must exist between medical representatives and healthcare professionals, and that has the patient’s interests at its core,” said the IFPMA in its guidance. 

The transition from a rules-based approach to a values-based code is built upon four pillars: including fairness, honesty, care and respect. “Trust is the life-blood of our industry, it is the ‘north star’ for our behaviours,” said Thomas Cueni, IFPMA director-general. “It’s not just what pharmaceutical innovation achieves that matters, but also how the industry goes about achieving it.”

The IFPMA claims that this approach will help members to make the right decisions when faced with grey areas or questions not covered in written guidance. Many multinational pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Novartis have already instituted global bans on gifts in recent years. However, the existence of self-regulatory codes aren't guarantees of compliance, as the IFPMA and other codes don't carry either legal or financial sanctions. Only time will tell how the industry will respond.

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