Policy Matter

Govt plans mandatory marketing code for pharmaceutical firms

Drugmakers may soon be prohibited from offering gifts to doctors to prescribe their products, with the government finding that an existing voluntary code discouraging the practice has made little impact.

The mandatory code will replace the voluntary Uniform Code of Pharmaceutical Marketing Practices (UCPMP) released by the department of pharmaceuticals in January.In 2011, the ministry of chemicals and fertilizers had backed away from making such a mandatory code after protests from the industry. The new code is likely to be strict on medical representatives as well, prohibiting them from employing any inducement or payment to gain access to a healthcare practitioner.Pharmaceuticals

The existing voluntary code states that all associations of pharmaceutical firms should have a complaint handling committee empowered to expel anyone found violating the code.

Under the voluntary code, companies must keep a detailed list of their marketing expenses. Travel expenses should not be paid for the spouses of doctors or other accompanying persons, unless they are healthcare professionals, who qualify as participants of those events in their own right. (Travel expenses of doctors can be paid for by pharmaceutical companies as long as it’s a work-related trip and only within India.) Moreover, the events must be organized only in India and should not coincide with sporting, entertainment or other leisure events.

The code also says funding of healthcare professionals to compensate them for the time spent in attending an event is not permitted. It also bars supply of free medicine samples to any person not qualified to prescribe such products.

The US and European Union already have stringent marketing regulations in place and even have disclosure norms for the companies in this regard.

In the past, Indian companies had faced heat from the US and EU regulators related to its manufacturing practices.

The $32-billion Indian pharmaceutical industry is expected to touch $85 billion by 2020, according to the department of pharmaceuticals. The industry is growing at a rate of 14-15% per annum and may see five-fold growth in the next ten years.

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