U.K. marketing cops slap Hospira, Napp for 'improper' biosim promo meetings

Welsh Guards marching in London. (photo by Jon Bennett via Flickr)

The U.K.’s promotional police cracked down on biosimilar marketing this week, citing Pfizer’s ($PFE) Hospira unit and Napp Pharmaceuticals for code violations at meetings they hosted for healthcare providers.

The Hospira sanction was triggered by a Daily Telegraph report that slammed National Health Service officials for attending a Hospira-hosted meeting a 5-star hotel in Zagreb, Croatia. The Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority called the confab “an improper meeting” and said Hospira had designed it to “promote its biosimilar medicines to U.K. healthcare providers,” violating the PCMPA’s code.

Napp hosted a sham “advisory board” meeting in London and made “unacceptable payments” to health professionals to attend, the PMCPA said in a statement.

Both companies will be called out in advertisements in the British Medical Journal, the Pharmaceutical Journal and the Nursing Standard over the next two weeks. 

The two citations were among four different cases announced by the PMCPA, which is part of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI). They follow a series of promotional crackdowns, some serious, some not so much--and one that offended the target company, Galderma, to the point where it declared itself no longer subject to the PMCPA code.

Hospira defended its meeting, saying it was no junket, but a serious look at the company's biosimilar capabilities. It included a manufacturing site visit in Zagreb and an advisory board discussion about the medicines, including Inflectra, its recently launched biosimilar version of Remicade. Participants weren’t paid, and they flew economy class; the hotel itself cost £130 per night, and Hospira meeting planners had thought it was a four-star hotel when they selected it, the company said.

But the PMCPA panel said the hotel “was not appropriate” and that it had been billed as "the finest hotel in Zagreb.” The panel also wondered whether it was really necessary for “health professionals to travel to Croatia to be reassured about the manufacturing quality of Hospira products,” the PCMPA case report states. “[D]etailed information about the manufacturing facility could have been incorporated into a meeting held in the U.K.” the panel added.

But, then again, the meeting took place before Hospira was purchased by Pfizer, and Hospira had not yet signed on to the PMCPA, the panel noted.

In Napp’s case, “the meeting objectives were very much about how Napp could improve the uptake of Remsima in NHS London,” a PCMPA report states. The report cites the “unbalanced nature of the presentation” at the meeting, where the chairman lauded Remsima, also a biosimilar version of Merck’s ($MRK) Remicade, and said he intended to switch all his rheumatoid arthritis patients to the med.

In its response to the original complaint, Napp denied that it “was using advisory boards to ‘generate sales & break down barriers to prescribing’.”

Biosimilar versions of Remicade, including Hospira's and Napp's, have grabbed significant market share from Merck's brand in the E.U. Hospira is preparing to launch in the U.S. now that it has prevailed in a patent fight with Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ), which owns the marketing rights in the states.