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April 4, 2002

British Drug Industry Group Criticizes Pfizer


In a rare move, a trade group representing British pharmaceutical companies has publicly reprimanded Pfizer (news/quote), saying it promoted several medicines for unapproved uses and marketed another drug before it received government approval.

The managing board of the group, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, ruled in February that Pfizer had breached the industry's code of conduct and discredited the industry by using a team of employees known as medical liaisons to promote its products to doctors improperly. The board's action was reported last week by The British Medical Journal.

The case bears similarities to federal investigations in Boston involving Pfizer. Dr. David P. Franklin, a former employee of Warner-Lambert, a company acquired by Pfizer in 2000, has asserted that the company aggressively promoted Neurontin, an epilepsy drug, for more than a dozen medical conditions where the drug's use had not been approved.

Mariann Caprino, a spokeswoman for Pfizer, said in an interview that the company did not think the medical liaisons in Britain had inappropriate discussions with doctors. Instead, she said, the company failed to maintain the proper documentation to prove it was following the British rules.

The British group's board took the action after reviewing internal documents provided to it in an anonymous complaint by individuals who said they were employees of Pfizer. The complaint said Pfizer employees had promoted ziprasidone, an antipsychotic medicine, before it was approved by the British government. Ziprasidone was approved last year in the United States and is sold under the brand name Geodon.


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The complaint also said the company's medical liaisons had urged doctors to prescribe products likeNeurontin, Viagra, Lipitor and Istin, a heart drug known as Norvasc in the United States, for unapproved uses.

Similar to rules in the United States, drug companies in Britain can promote medications only for uses that have been approved by the government after appropriate scientific studies.

Doctors are allowed to ask medical liaisons, drug company employees who often have more extensive medical training than sales representatives, for information on unapproved drugs and unapproved uses of licensed medicines, but the company's employees cannot actively promote drugs for unapproved uses or give the information to doctors if they do not ask for it first.

Documents supplied by the British board describing the complaint it received said Pfizer's medical liaisons had been trained, for example, to give presentations to groups of doctors on Geodon, even if only one doctor in the group had requested information on the drug.

The British association's board said that it had performed an audit of Pfizer's practices involving the medical liaisons and that the company had agreed to carry out all its recommendations, which it did not describe.

Pfizer told the board that Warner-Lambert had begun using the medical liaisons in Britain in 1998 and that they became part of its own marketing team after the merger.

Dr. Franklin has said that Warner-Lambert began aggressively marketing Neurontin in the United States for unapproved uses ranging from pain to attention deficit disorder in the mid-90's. Most Neurontin prescriptions are now written for such uses. Dr. Franklin's accusations are the subject of criminal and civil investigations by the United States attorney's office in Boston.

Pfizer has said there is no credible evidence that Warner-Lambert's employees made false claims about Neurontin.

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