UK trade group suspends Merck over Cozaar marketing practices

Merck has been suspended from membership in Britain’s pharmaceutical trade body for at least three months for unacceptable promotional practices, Reuters reported. The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) said Monday the company’s use of a screening program to promote its blood pressure drug Cozaar represented a breach of the industry’s code of practice. “The highest possible ethical standards are required by the pharmaceutical industry in all its relationships with healthcare professionals and other stakeholders. Breaches of the code are viewed in the most serious possible light and this is reflected in the suspension,” ABPI president Nigel Brooksby told Reuters. The reprimand, followed a complaint by a former Merck sales rep over the way a screening program, designed to identify at-risk patients, was offered to general practitioners. Such programs are not supposed to be used to promote a particular medicine. An ABPI panel said internal company documents linked the service to the promotion of Cozaar—an arrangement that was “totally unacceptable,” the panel said. A Merck spokesman told Reuters the company took full responsibility for the matter and management has taken action to ensure this is no repeated. The suspension is the second by the UK trade body this year. Abbott Laboratories was suspended for six months in February for improperly entertaining doctors. Prior to that, the last suspension was in 1994.