AUTH/3608/2/22 - Complainant v AstraZeneca

Alleged promotion to the public on LinkedIn

  • Received
    08 February 2022
  • Case number
  • Applicable Code year
  • Completed
    21 November 2022
  • No breach Clause(s)
  • Additional sanctions
  • Appeal
    No appeal

Case Summary

A contactable complainant, who described himself/herself as a medical oncologist, alleged that AstraZeneca had promoted its current and future pipeline to the public on LinkedIn.

The post in question was from a named senior employee and referred to AstraZeneca helping lead a revolution in oncology. The post referred to world cancer day as the perfect time to reflect on the achievements made across the cancer community and to thank everyone from charities, volunteers, healthcare workers, scientists, the NHS and other pharmaceutical companies for ‘the sheer dedication and resilience they bring to making the world slightly better for those people living with cancer’. It went on to state that AstraZeneca was proud of its work developing innovative medicines that bring hope to people living with cancer and introducing initiatives that can improve outcomes and redefine cancer care. The post referred to the challenges ahead and that AstraZeneca had a team which came together every day to find ways to overcome the challenges and move towards a world without cancer. The post referred to helping raise awareness of world cancer day by sharing Cancer Research UK’s (CRUK’s)post and reflect on what this day meant to readers.

The complainant was absolutely disgusted at the manner in which such a senior person at AstraZeneca UK would use World Cancer day to share a live link to the AstraZeneca Oncology portfolio and pipeline, via his/her LinkedIn profile, effectively promoting current and future pipeline products to the general public.

The complainant stated that this type of reckless behaviour undermined the important work at a named London hospital, where a large clinical trial centre would have patients coming in with screenshots of the AstraZeneca pipeline, requesting access to phase 1, 2, and even 3 molecules, whose efficacy and safety was not yet proven.

The complainant alleged that this raised unfounded hopes for patients, trivialised the important work done and promoting unproven assets (in some cases) to the public was just not ethical medicines promotion.

Additionally, the complainant was baffled that so many AstraZeneca staff members had liked the post. There seemed to be a big problem at AstraZeneca UK Oncology, with respect to appropriate promotion, to suitable audiences, once a licence had been granted. The complainant alleged one could argue that this case represented the worst example of (i) promotion to the public (ii) promotion prior to licensing of combinations.

The detailed response from AstraZeneca is given below.

The Panel noted that the LinkedIn post in question did not refer to AstraZeneca medicines by name or by indication. According to AstraZeneca, there was not a direct link from the LinkedIn post to the information about the company’s pipeline. The post included a link to the AstraZeneca Global LinkedIn account. The Panel noted, therefore, that someone reading the post in question would have to follow the link to the AstraZeneca Global LinkedIn account and then link to the AstraZeneca corporate website and then decide to actively access the information about the company’s pipeline in order to see that information. The Panel noted that the AstraZeneca Global corporate website landing page featured a number of items with links to further information including the projects in the pipeline (177).

The Panel noted that it was likely that some patients with cancer would search for information about oncology studies and some would request pipeline products. The Panel, however, did not consider that the AstraZeneca employee’s LinkedIn post in question or AstraZeneca employees’ ‘liking’ the post promoted AstraZeneca’s oncology current portfolio or its future pipeline products prior to the grant of the product’s marketing authorisation to the public as alleged. The Panel therefore ruled no breaches of the Code.

The Panel did not consider that the complainant had established that the LinkedIn post in question raised unfounded hopes for patients or trivialised work done by a named London hospital as alleged. The Panel ruled no breach of the Code in relation to each allegation.

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