AUTH/3288/12/19 - NHS Worker v Biogen

Alleged promotion at a social event

  • Received
    13 December 2019
  • Case number
  • Applicable Code year
  • Completed
    16 September 2020
  • No breach Clause(s)
  • Additional sanctions
  • Appeal
    No appeal

Case Summary

An anonymous, non-contactable individual who stated that he/she worked in the NHS, complained about a conversation that had taken place between a Biogen Idec medical science liaison (MSL) and another guest who were at the same social event. Biogen produced Tysabri which was a disease modifying therapy indicated for certain groups of adults with highly active relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis (MS).

The complainant alleged that the Biogen MSL discussed Tysabri and the benefits that it offered with his/her fellow guest who was an MS patient. Following that discussion the patient, who had been taking a competitor disease modifying therapy, asked his/her local MS nurse to switch him/her to Tysabri. This was agreed but was against the nurse’s advice.

The complainant was alarmed that a pharmaceutical company employee actively advised and promoted his/her products to patients and the public. The complainant considered that this was inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour in breach of the Code.

The detailed response from Biogen is given below.

The Panel noted that the complainant had alleged that, at a social event, a conversation had taken place between the MSL and another guest about Tysabri and the benefits that it offered. The complainant had not provided any specific detail in that regard and could not be contacted for further information. The Constitution and Procedure for the Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority stated that anonymous complaints would be accepted but that, like all other complaints, the complainant had the burden of proving his/her complaint on the balance of probabilities. All complaints were judged on the evidence provided by the parties. It appeared that the complainant was not the person with whom the MSL had had the conversation some seven months earlier, nor was it clear if the complainant had been present when the conversation had taken place.

The Panel noted Biogen’s submission that once the MSL had been drawn to reveal that he/she worked for Biogen and the fellow guest had seemed to be aware that the company was active in the MS therapy field, the MSL had drawn the conversation to a close and advised his/her fellow guest to seek advice about her personal medical treatment from her health professional. Biogen had submitted that the MSL had not referred to any of the company’s medicines. The Panel considered that it was possible, having had a conversation with a Biogen employee, and reportedly being dissatisfied with her current standard of care, that the fellow guest subsequently searched the Internet for information on Biogen and Tysabri. The Panel noted that the complainant had not referred to any specific claims about the medicine made by the MSL.

The Panel noted that it was difficult to determine precisely what was said during the conversation at the social event. The Panel noted that the complainant bore the burden of proof and noted its comments above in this regard. In the Panel’s view, the complainant had not established, on the balance of probabilities, that the conversation between the MSL and his/her fellow guest at a wedding had promoted Tysabri. No breach of the Code was ruled. The Panel had no evidence before it to show that, on the balance of probabilities, the MSL had made any statement for the purpose of encouraging his/her fellow guest to ask her health professional for Tysabri. No breach of the Code was ruled. The Panel thus considered that, on the balance of probabilities, the conversation had not been the disguised promotion of Tysabri; no breach of the Code was ruled.

The Panel did not consider that on the information before it that the MSL had failed to maintain a high standard of ethical conduct; no breach of the Code was ruled. High standards had been maintained and the Panel ruled no breach of the Code.

The Panel noted its rulings above and ruled no breach of Clause 2.