Illicit Marketing Practices of UK, Swedish Pharmaceutical Companies Outlined

Shai Mulinari  Researcher, PhD Sociology, Lund University Interview with:
Shai Mulinari  Researcher, PhD

Sociology, Lund University

Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Dr. Mulinari : Over the past decade, several so-called whistleblower cases have spotlighted the illicit marketing practices of pharmaceutical companies in the US but relatively few similar cases have been brought in Europe. The reason for this discrepancy is unclear but one possibility is that the wider use of self-regulation in Europe encourages companies to comply with drug promotion rules and deters illicit conduct. But to date self-regulation of medicines promotion has been poorly studied.

We therefore investigated pharmaceutical industry self-regulation in the UK and Sweden. These are two countries often cited as places where self-regulation is effective. One of things that we found was that between 2004 and 2012 the Swedish and UK self-regulatory bodies ruled that 536 and 597 cases, respectively, were in breach of the country’s rules on medicines promotion; many of the violations in both countries concerned misleading claims about a drug’s effects. This equates to an average of more than one case per week in each country.

Charges incurred by companies because of these violations were equivalent to about 0.014% and 0.0051% of annual sales revenue in Sweden and the UK, respectively. Notably, nearly 20% of the cases in breach of the code of conduct in both countries were serious breaches.

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Mulinari : The prevalence and severity of breaches testifies to a discrepancy between the ethical standard codified in industry codes of conduct and the actual conduct of the industry. Clinicians and patients should therefore always take a critical stance regarding pharmaceutical industry marketing practices. I also want to stress the importance of reporting potential industry misconduct to the regulatory bodies responsible for the oversight of marketing activities.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Mulinari : Future studies need to assess the effectiveness of various policies for improving industry behaviour, such as larger fines for violations and giving greater publicity to rulings. There is also a need to investigate promotion and its regulation in other countries.


Complaints, Complainants, and Rulings Regarding Drug Promotion in the United Kingdom and Sweden 2004–2012: A Quantitative and Qualitative Study of Pharmaceutical Industry Self-Regulation

Anna V. Zetterqvist, Juan Merlo, Shai Mulinari

[wysija_form id=”1″] Interview with:, Shai Mulinari Researcher, PhD, & Sociology, Lund University (2015). Illicit Marketing Practices of UK, Swedish Pharmaceutical Companies Outlined

Last Updated on February 19, 2015 by Marie Benz MD FAAD