Novo Nordisk hit with two-year suspension from UK pharma group after online marketing breaches

Last month, Novo Nordisk’s general manager in the U.K. stepped down as president of a national pharma group as the company weathered fallout from an ill-fated LinkedIn campaign. Now, the other shoe has dropped.

Novo has been suspended from the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) for two years thanks to “serious breaches” of the organization’s code of practice, ABPI said in a press release Thursday. This marks the eighth time in 40 years ABPI has issued “such a significant sanction,” the group pointed out, specifically chastising Novo for behaviors “likely to bring discredit on, or reduce confidence in, the pharmaceutical industry.’”

Novo’s infractions revolve around a LinkedIn post about an obesity webinar. While the training was sponsored by Novo, the involvement of the company—which sells weight loss drug Saxenda in the U.K.—wasn’t immediately clear. The original complaint leveled against Novo suggested that the LinkedIn post did not say whether the webinar was promotional or non-promotional.

Back in December, the U.K.'s drug marketing regulator, The Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority (PMCPA), reprimanded Novo and several other pharma companies for various code breaches.

PMCPA and its appeal board were so concerned about Novo’s behavior that it reported the company to ABPI for an audit, ultimately prompting Novo's U.K. general manager Pinder Sahota to resign as ABPI president in February.

Novo Nordisk did not immediately respond to Fierce Pharma’s request for comment on the situation.

“The Board expressed significant concern about Novo Nordisk’s compliance activities and the very serious issues identified,” Susan Rienow, ABPI’s president-elect, said in a Thursday statement. Regarding the suspension, she noted “[s]uch measures are never taken lightly, but will ensure a rapid return to industry compliance standards as set out in the ABPI Code of Practice.”

Before Novo’s membership can be reinstated, the company is on the hook to show it’s charting a “rapid return to industry compliance standards,” ABPI added.

For the time being, Novo will remain beholden to ABPI code and the PMCPA’s jurisdiction, though it won’t be able to access the “wider benefits” of ABPI membership. The Danish drugmaker is temporarily exiled from all ABPI groups, including the organization’s board, and it loses access to “any ABPI information and briefing.”

Late last year, Novo was indicted on 11 violations of ABPI code. Aside from potentially bringing “discredit” upon the industry, the majority of Novo’s breaches related to the company’s failure to adequately outline its involvement in the aforementioned obesity webinar.

While Novo appears to be at the center of the ABPI scrutiny, it’s far from the only company to enter PMPCA and ABPI’s crosshairs in recent months. Back in December, PMCPA also chastised AstraZeneca, Biogen, Daiichi Sankyo, Lundbeck and UCB for marketing breaches.

As of yet, those other companies don't appear to be experiencing the same level of sanctioning from the national pharma group.