The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) has suspended Novo Nordisk over ‘serious breaches’ of the ABPI’s Code of Practice relating to promotional webinars for the manufacturer’s injectable weight-loss product, Saxenda.

Accusations that the company promoted Saxenda to healthcare professionals without making its involvement clear and induced them to prescribe by offering individuals a PGD were upheld by the Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority (PMCPA).

The complaint related to a LinkedIn post by a clinical training provider, linking to a training provider’s webpage which was headed Free Weight Management Course (WEBINAR + PGD [patient group direction]).

The complainant alleged that this was a Novo Nordisk sponsored webinar and PGD, but that the post and the website did not make clear Novo Nordisk’s involvement.

The webinar included slides about three pharmacological treatment options for weight loss: orlistat (Alli, Xenical, Beacita), naltrexone/bupropion (Mysimba) and liraglutide (Saxenda).

While the slide listed side-effects for orlistat and naltrexone/bupropion, it did not list any for liraglutide. The PMCA panel said that the webpage and webinar constituted promotional material that ‘in effect, promoted Saxenda’ and that ‘the requirement for readers of sponsored material and meetings to be aware at the outset had not been met’.

The complainant also accused Novo Nordisk of ‘bribing health professionals with an inducement to prescribe’ by offering a PGD which clinicians could use to run private clinics for their own personal benefit. This was upheld by the PMCPA panel.

The ABPI found that the company’s actions were ‘likely to bring discredit on, or reduce confidence in, the pharmaceutical industry’ and suspended the company from ABPI membership for two years.

Novo Nordisk will continue to be subject to the ABPI code and the jurisdiction of the Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority (PMCPA). The company will have to undergo further audits of its compliance over the next two years, which must show ‘sustained improvement to industry standards’.

A Novo Nordisk spokesperson said that while the company was disappointed with the outcome, it accepted the decision.

They said: ‘We will continue to strengthen our compliance framework in the UK and remain committed to following the ABPI Code of Practice and maintaining the highest possible ethical standards required by the pharmaceutical industry.

‘Novo Nordisk will continue to focus our efforts on achieving better outcomes for, and improving the lives of, patients living with serious chronic conditions.’