The body representing the international pharmaceutical industry has updated its code of practice on interactions between pharma companies and the healthcare community.
The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) said the new version of the code has been extended to cover all interactions not only with healthcare professionals and medical institutions but also patient organisations.
In a statement, the IFPMA noted that the code provides an "effective framework for ethical business practices", including a need to train all staff, clear distinctions between gifts, promotional aids and items of medical utility and guidance on appropriate ways to support continuing medical education (CME).
The updated version also includes a provision on disclosure of clinical trials information, and guidance for filing complaints.
It apples only in countries where there is no national code already in place by a member association, or cases in which the company involved is not a member of the national organisation, and is designed to fill in the gaps between national systems as the pharmaceutical industry continues its relentless expansion into emerging markets.
If complaints are received, they are validated by the IFPMA secretariat and forwarded to the company in question within five working days of receipt.
The IFPMA secretariat will typically require a response within 30 days and, if the company is found to be in breach, it will have 10 days to provide as a minimum written details of the measures taken to rectify the situation. Companies found to be in breach of the code will be publicly named on the IFPMA website.
While the penalties laid are pretty light, the new code could help companies avoid repeating some embarrassing and expensive blunders in recent years.
Last year, Pfizer agreed to pay $60m to settle allegations that it paid kickbacks in order to encourage uptake of its products outside the US, while Johnson & Johnson paid $80m in a similar case involving payments to health officials in Europe and Iraq.
Other cases outside the larger pharma markets involve Merck & Co, which is under investigation over allegations that Schering-Plough (which it acquired in 2009) bribed doctors in Vietnam to prescribe a hepatitis treatment, and AstraZeneca which is accused of making improper payments to physicians at the Institute of Oncology and Radiology of Serbia.
“The new Code provides a framework for the industry to act with integrity and build trust, as we work towards improving patient heath," commented IFPMA president and AstraZeneca chief executive David Brennan.
"This is not about doing the easy thing, but the right thing."