AstraZeneca breaches marketing rules with LinkedIn post engagement but steers clear of most serious code break

Be careful what you like and engage with on LinkedIn. That’s the message that will surely be sent out to AstraZeneca U.K. employees after one engaged a little too much on the social media site for AZ’s heart drug Forxiga.

In a new ruling out by the Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority (PMCPA), the drug marketing code maker by which pharma firms working in the U.K. must abide, AstraZeneca was found to have breached three PMCPA clauses, specifically:

  • Clause 5.1: Failing to maintain high standards
  • Clause 26.1: Advertising a prescription only medicine to the public
  • Clause 26.2: Encouraging members of the public to ask their health professional for a specific prescription only medicine

In the U.K., as in Europe, pharma companies are not allowed to directly advertise or promote prescription medicines, and there are many layers within the PMCPA code where something can be seen as a promotion.

In recent years, many of these breaches have come from social media posts, and AZ is following that trend after being accused by a hospital consultant, who remains anonymous, that someone paid by AZ had liked a posts on LinkedIn about new trial results around its marketed heart drug Forxiga.

The post in question came from an academic researcher about the PRESERVED-HF trial, which at the time had just been published about Forxiga, known as Farxiga in the U.S. The employee liked this post and commented “Congratulations.”

The panel found that this breached AZ’s own social media policy, which declares those working for the pharma should not engage with these types of posts.

The PMCPA said the LinkedIn activity also breached its rules. "The employee had potentially disseminated the post to members of the public within and outside his/her LinkedIn network proactively" by liking the post in question and commenting on it, according to the PMCPA. 

It also found that the engagement on LinkedIn “may have encouraged members of the public to ask their health professional to prescribe a specific prescription only medicine."

AZ was not found guilty of the most serious breach, known as Clause 2, which is to bring “disrepute” to the industry and can bring harsher penalties.