AUTH/3204/6/19 - Anonymous pharmaceutical employee v GlaxoSmithKline

Alleged promotional information on company website

  • Received
    07 June 2019
  • Case number
  • Applicable Code year
  • Completed
    27 April 2020
  • No breach Clause(s)
  • Additional sanctions
  • Appeal
    No appeal
  • Review
    To be published in the review

Case Summary

An anonymous individual, who described him/herself as a concerned health professional employed by Otsuka, complained in his/her private capacity that GlaxoSmithKline UK Limited’s website promoted prescription only medicines to the public.

The complainant alleged that the GlaxoSmithKline website for members of the public had links to the various company products and included the brand name of the medicine, non-propriety name and the indication promoted to members of the public and encouraged them to ask for these medicines. The complainant referred to Nucala (mepolizumab) and stated that clicking the ‘I am a patient’ link provided, a pop-up asking for confirmation that the visitor was a patient. If the ‘no’ option was chosen, the visitor was directed to the patient information anyway instead of back to the page for the public.

The detailed response from GlaxoSmithKline is given below.

The Panel noted GlaxoSmithKline’s submission that it operated two primary product websites intended for a UK audience that provided information about its prescription only products: the promotional GSKPro website for health professionals and the GlaxoSmithKline public website which was non-promotional and intended for patients and members of the public. Both websites were accessible via the company’s corporate website. Readers were asked to confirm whether they were a UK health professional or member of the public and were taken to the GSKPro landing page if they confirmed that they were UK health professionals and to the GlaxoSmithKline public website landing page if they confirmed that they were a member of the public.

The Panel noted that the products section of the public site included a list of GlaxoSmithKline’s products in alphabetical order by brand name and included the non-proprietary name of each; in order to obtain further information on a particular product including the indication, the reader had to select that product.

The Panel noted that the page of the website at issue was the Nucala page of the public website. This bore links to the SPC and patient information leaflet. It featured the indication beneath a subheading ‘What is Nucala?’, adjacent to a prominent photograph of the product. Subheadings of Safety information and Patient Information below appeared above links to the patient information leaflet and patient guides respectively. The latter linked to the patient information part of the site, as did a link on the left-hand side of the webpage in question. The Panel queried whether a prominent picture of the product in material aimed at the public was appropriate.

The Panel noted GlaxoSmithKline’s submission that its public website provided a library resource in line with the provisions of the Code. The Panel noted GlaxoSmithKline’s submission that each product page on the public site linked to the Electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC) website for the patient information leaflet (PIL) and summary of product characteristics (SPC), as well as the European or UK Public Assessment Reports (EPAR or UKPAR) where available, a factual introduction to the product, sections on safety information and patient information and, where relevant, links to third party websites related to the relevant disease area, such as NHS Choices and NHS Inform. This was confirmed by the copies of the information for Nucala provided to the Panel by GlaxoSmithKline.

The Panel further noted GlaxoSmithKline’s submission that for certain products such as Nucala, the public website product page also included a separate section intended only for patients that had already been prescribed the product. These patient pages included further information including about the disease, its treatment and about Nucala that fairly reflected the current body of evidence about the product and its benefit risk profile. A screenshot of the patient information for Nucala was provided. The Panel noted that to access this information, patients had to select the ‘I am a patient’ link which asked the reader to confirm that they had been prescribed the medicine following consultation with a UK health professional before a new page opened. The Panel noted GlaxoSmithKline’s submission that patient information was thus clearly separated and clearly marked for the target audience. The Panel noted that neither the content of the patient webpages nor the acceptability of a link to it were the subject of complaint.

The Panel’s interpretation of the complaint was that according to the complainant, after clicking ‘I am a patient’ and when asked to confirm whether he/she had been prescribed the medicine, he/she selected ‘no’ but was, nonetheless, directed to the patient section. The Panel noted that the ‘I am a patient’ link stated for the ‘No, go back’ option ‘Unfortunately we cannot display this GSK content if you are not a patient. You will be re-directed to the product page’. GlaxoSmithKline submitted that after selecting the ‘No, go back’ link, the user remained on the public webpage and was not redirected to the product page as intended. GlaxoSmithKline stated that this was a technical issue and not a Code issue; the issue had been corrected. The Panel considered that if its interpretation of the complaint was correct then the complainant’s concern was potentially a Code issue in that members of the public were exposed to the information for patients who had been prescribed the product. It was potentially more than a technical issue as stated by GlaxoSmithKline. Given that it was not possible for the Panel to know how the link in question worked when accessed by the complainant and that there was insufficient evidence to establish what had occurred on the balance of probabilities, the Panel ruled no beach of the Code in relation to how the link in question worked.

Noting its comments above, in the Panel’s view, the information about Nucala on the webpage for the public was not unacceptable in relation to the requirements of reference information as referred to in the supplementary information. The Panel ruled no breaches of the Code.

The Panel did not consider that GlaxoSmithKline had failed to maintain high standards in this regard and no breach of the Code was ruled. The Panel subsequently ruled no breach of the Code.