AstraZeneca hit by marketing breaches across its respiratory drug range amid online slip-ups

AstraZeneca has been reprimanded by the U.K. drug marketing authority for a series of breaches of its code of conduct across its website for its respiratory franchise.

A healthcare professional in the U.K. complained to the Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority (PMCPA), which polices the U.K.’s voluntary pharma code of marketing ethics from the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), that AstraZeneca had made a series of increasingly serious errors and omissions when talking about its franchise of respiratory medicines online.

This includes not stating the maximum dose for its blockbuster asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) drug Symbicort, as well as its inhaler device pMDI, on their official product websites.

The healthcare professional was irked by AZ's marketing puff—"Two inhalations in the morning, two inhalations in the evening and two inhalations as needed"—arguing that it failed to highlight the maximum dose and could lead to overdosing. AZ claimed the marketing information would be seen primarily by respiratory specialists, and they would intrinsically understand not to overdose. 

No dice, said the PMCPA, which ruled AZ’s website had indeed breached its code as it is an open website that anyone can visit.

The U.K. pharma was also in hot water over the websites for its COPD treatment Trixeo, and there were several separate breaches found there.

The first was for not supplying the generic name of its other respiratory drug Bevespi, which was mentioned on its Trixeo website, next to its brand name, a no-no in British marketing rules, and was therefore found in breach.

On the same Trixeo webpage, AZ was also found in breach when talking about Symbicort. The webpage did show the generic name for Symbicort, but it did not provide the full prescribing information for the drug, again a violation of the rules.

There were similar breaches found for mentions of Eklira and COPD treatment Daxas on the Trixeo “Learn More” webpage. AZ failed to show their generic names, and again there was mention of Symbicort in this section, but the page didn't include prescribing information or where to find it, so a further reprimand fell AZ’s way.

But the PMCPA did not rule that AZ had breached its most serious rule, namely Clause 2, bringing disrepute to the entire industry because of actions.

“Whilst the Panel was concerned about the multiple breaches noted above, it, nonetheless, did not consider that the overall circumstances warranted a breach of Clause 2, which was a sign of particular censure and reserved for such use and no breach of Clause 2 was ruled,” the PMCPA stated in it's case summary.

This comes in the same month that diabetes specialist Novo Nordisk was forced in an unusual move to leave the ABPI for several years after it was found to have breached the PMCPA’s rules, specifically related to its online marketing practices, in one of the most serious cases of the watchdog's history.