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Pharma MNCs work on no-gifts policy

Sushmi Dey/New Delhi 18 Nov 12 | 12:45 AM

Sanofi, Pfizer start training programmes to ensure staff are aware of the fallout of ‘corrupt’ sales practices

With pharmaceutical companies increasingly coming under the lens for unfair trade practices in promoting their products through doctors and chemists, many multinationals are going the extra mile to ensure best practices in marketing.

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A few years earlier, Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD) had sacked 30 employees for alleged non-compliance with marketing norms. Abbott India Managing Director Sudarshan Jain, in a recent letter to the company’s sales team, suspended promotion through brand reminders or therapy reminders to doctors. This is despite the fact that Medical Council of India (MCI) guidelines allow these. However, a company spokesperson said, “MSD believes in and follows the highest standards of ethics and compliance across the company, both globally as well as in India. Our employees continue to pursue these relentlessly."

“Multinational companies are more professional in their approach and care a lot about their reputation. So, they would actually not mind selling a little less, as long as goodwill is maintained," said a senior pharmaceuticals sector analyst.

Companies such as Sanofi and Pfizer have started conducting training programmes to ensure their staff are aware of the fallout of ‘corrupt’ marketing practices.

Pfizer, the world’s largest pharmaceuticals company by revenue, says it considers corporate integrity a priority. To monitor compliance, the company has a dedicated a chief compliance officer who reports directly to the chief executive, a corporate compliance committee, a code of conduct, a compliance hotline and extensive procedures to investigate and remediate potential non-compliance issues. “We at Pfizer take compliance very seriously. In fact, over the last few years, Pfizer has taken very significant steps to strengthen our internal controls and pioneer new procedures in the area of compliance. We have invested substantial resources to create a compliance programme that comprises mandatory training for every employee, proactive monitoring and surveillance and strict enforcement of all federal and state healthcare laws," said a Pfizer spokesperson.

Sanofi Aventis, another major multinational drug maker, also conducts routine internal training programmes to ensure its employees are aware of the policies, the code of ethics and best practices. “We regularly monitor applications through defined and structured metrics that are audited at frequent intervals," says Pravin Chopra, head (medical and regulatory affairs) of Sanofi India and the company’s senior director for South Asia. Chopra says the company considers non-compliance with policies, the code of ethics and promotional practices a very serious issue and strict disciplinary action is taken in such cases.

According to an executive at a multinational pharmaceuticals company, foreign firms impose stringent self-regulation because these companies are monitored under various international laws such as Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. “If a company is indulging in practices to unduly influence a government or a medical practitioner, it might face stringent action under such laws," the executive said.

Multinational companies that sell their products in multiple markets are also sensitive about their image. This is because adverse action in a single country may hit their operations in other markets as well.

However, industry officials say domestic companies are still flexible in their approach, adding there is a need to tighten the system. Though their drugs cost less, to gain volumes in the market, they spend a lot on promoting and marketing these through doctors.

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