KEYCODE BAYER #215 16-Nov-2005

Australia: Plug pulled on Bayer Levitra campaign

BAYER has been ordered to pull the plug on its controversial marketing campaign for its erectile dysfunction drug Levitra. The campaign saw the company matchmake erectile dysfunction patients to consultations with GPs listed on a Bayer web site for men´s health and targeted with advertising for Levitra.

Bayer signed up the 1000 GPs to have their contact details listed on the men´s health web site earlier this year. Patients were urged to arrange appointments with doctors on the register, with Bayer then sending the GP the patient´s name and contact details as well as a Bayer information pack that the GP was expected to give to the patient in the resulting consultation.

After a complaint from North Sydney GP Dr Paul Fitzgerald, the drug industry´s self-regulator, Medicines Australia, said the company had not informed GPs that joining the web site could imply they were supporting the marketing of Bayer´s product. They also said Bayer was encouraging patients to ask their doctor to prescribe drugs rather than obtain appropriate health care thereby breaching the code of conduct.

Last week Bayer withdrew its appeal against the ruling. The company will now have to withdraw from the web site material found in breach of the Medicines Australia code. It will also have to send a letter to the 1000 GPs it signed up advising them of the breaches.

Meanwhile, Medicines Australia has revealed that it may require doctors making complaints about pharmaceutical companies to sign gagging orders preventing them from speaking to the media about Medicines Australia´s investigations until they are complete.

The regulator said pharmaceutical company reputations were being unfairly damaged by media leaks. It has been angered that its code of conduct committee´s initial ruling on the Bayer case had been handed to the media (Australian Doctor, 28 October, "Bayer matching up GPs, patients").

A spokeswoman said: "I´m not sure what sanctions we can impose on people who breach confidentiality agreements. Medicines Australia does not want to appear like bully boys. But perhaps pharmaceutical companies would look at legal action where they feel their reputations have been damaged unfairly."

Dr Fitzgerald said confidentiality agreements were excessive: "The Medicines Australia process needs to be transparent, in criminal and civil cases the media can report the case pending an appeal. I don´t see what is so different about drug companies." by Paul Smith