Novo Nordisk apologises for not disclosing sponsorship of anti-obesity training

The chief executive of pharmaceutical group Novo Nordisk has apologized for breaking UK industry norms by failing to disclose that it sponsored obesity and weight management training sessions for healthcare professionals while simultaneously promoting its weight-loss drugs.

Lars Fruergaard Jorgensen said the company “sincerely apologizes” that its brand was missing from a LinkedIn post promoting an online weight loss webinar and e-learning modules.

Thousands of healthcare professionals watched the webinars, which prioritized the inclusion of positive information about Novo's weight-loss drug Saxenda, in what the self-regulatory body dismissed as mass promotion “in disguise”.

Jørgensen said Novo's failure to disclose its sponsorship was a “mistake”.

“It should have said it was sponsored by Novo, which it didn't. Of course, that could lead people to the wrong conclusions,” he told the FT.

The industry self-regulatory group issued a strongly worded condemnation last year, saying it was “concerned about the company's compliance culture … . . . internal governance systems and processes, and Novo Nordisk's naivety and lack of accountability”.

It also said it was concerned about “potential implications for patient safety” because webinars held by third-party vendors but sponsored by Novo included side effects of competing drugs, but not Saxenda.

The British Pharmaceutical Industry Association is conducting an audit of Novo Nordisk's breaches and is deciding whether to take any further action.

Novo Nordisk UK managing director Pinder Sahota resigned as ABPI president this month, saying he did not want the audit to be a “disruption” of the group's “important work”. Novo said it has been assisting with the audit.

Alison Dennis, co-lead partner in life sciences at law firm Taylor Wessing, said that while financial penalties for breaking industry codes in the UK could be as low as £4,000, Novo Nordisk's suspension from ABPI would be rare “public condemnation”.

“You've been known to be doing the wrong thing, and it affects your credibility in important relationships, like a sales rep walking into a doctor's office,” she says.

In 2020 and 2021, regulators received an average of 147 complaints per year about drugmakers, with two-thirds of the cases finding violations of industry norms. Since the 1980s, seven companies have been suspended by ABPI for violating the Code.

Sidney Wolfe, founder and senior adviser to the health research group Public Citizen, said pharmaceutical companies have a long history of clandestine marketing campaigns under the guise of providing education.

“Unfortunately, because penalties for engaging in such conduct rarely act as a deterrent to companies, these potentially illegal but profitable activities will continue to be part of the company's business model without harsher penalties and penalties. A successful prosecution of a company executive,” he said.

Novo Nordisk is bringing another diet drug, Wegovy, to market. In one trial, it helped patients lose far more weight than Saxenda, but while patients were eager to try new weight-loss drugs, clinicians were more accustomed to prescribing diet and exercise.

“It's very important to understand that unless there is an investment in physician education, physicians may not be kept up to date. Of course, that's how you do that,” Jørgensen said.


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