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Marketing and promotion of drugs and medical devices

Regulation of the promotional aspects of prescription drugs, biologics, medical devices and biotechnology products with the intention of ensuring that the information contained in the promotion material is not false or misleading is one of the chief objectives of the FDA.

The FDA regulates the promotional materials of all drugs, and this includes both labeling and advertisements. Brochures, booklets, detailing pieces, bulletins, calendars, motion pictures and slides are some of the examples of labeling, while materials published in journals, magazines, other periodicals, and newspapers, and advertisements broadcast through media such as radio, television and telephone communications systems are examples of advertising.

The FDA also regulates another avenue of drug promotion and advertising, namely detailing. This kind of promotion is the one that pharma companies do to doctors in a variety of venues such as medical offices, hospitals, pharmacies, at medical meetings and symposia, academic settings, conferences and other meeting facilities.

The FDA’s reach in monitoring and regulating promotions also covers direct-to-consumer (DTC) prescription drug advertising. In this area, it has complete jurisdiction over prescription drug labeling and advertising and all medical device labeling, but has limited jurisdiction over medical device advertising.

Severe penalties for offenders

For decades, the FDA has been regulating traditional advertising, during the course of which it has been publishing several kinds of guidance documents for industry, and has issued many violation letters. The corrective actions that companies have to implement if the FDA adjudges that drug or medical device promotional material is false or misleading or does not give a proper account of the product needed to enable consumers to weigh the benefits and risks are very expensive and time consuming. They have to carry out expensive remedial advertising, have to cough up huge fines, and also face the prospect of having their reputation sullied on account of these enforcement actions from the FDA.

In addition, it can also criminally prosecute relevant executives of such organizations under the provisions of a strict liability standard. This law gives the government sweeping powers, by which it is not obliged or required to show that the executive facing prosecution had the intention of violating FDA regulations or was knowledgeable about such violations.

The agency has already netted billions of dollars in fines, forfeitures and disgorgements from drug companies for the alleged marketing of a product for unapproved, or "off-label," uses.

Are the FDA’s laws obsolete?

Yet, the general consensus is that the law governing drug and device marketing is both outmoded and insufficient to deal with the speed at which technology-enabled promotion campaigns appear out of nowhere and disappear in a jiffy. Experts feel that the FDA is still very conservative and traditional in adapting technologies needed for detecting and nailing down such promotion campaigns that technology has brought about. Naturally, the regulatory circles are eager to see how the FDA will deal with the advanced communication technology that goes into promotion campaigns that can make the advertisement go viral and leave the scene just as quickly.

These are important aspects for organizations in the drugs, biologics, medical devices and biotechnology areas. These companies need to be completely aware of the law governing advertising and need to understand the FDA’s thinking on what it considers false and misleading advertising. This knowledge is absolutely essential, considering the broad sweep of powers that the FDA has.

Important learning on the FDA’s approach to promotions and advertising

This important understanding will be imparted at a two-day seminar that is being organized by GlobalCompliancePanel, a leading provider of professional trainings for the areas of regulatory compliance. At this seminar, David R. Dills, Global Regulatory Affairs and Compliance Consultant, who provides regulatory affairs and compliance consultative services, will be the Director. To gain insights into the FDA’s thinking on how it perceives advertisements and promotions as false and misleading, please register for this seminar by visiting Marketing and promotion of drugs and medical devices. This seminar has been pre-approved by RAPS as eligible for up to 12 credits towards a participant's RAC recertification upon full completion.

Advertising aimed at healthcare professionals and consumers

Prescription drug promotion is aimed at and delivered to two distinct audiences: Health care professionals (HCPs) and consumers. The FDA recognizes that promotional efforts can provide these audiences important information about the newest developments in drug therapies. So, it insists that such information has to have integrity and completeness.

Also, healthcare professionals, sales representatives and consumers use the social media to discuss the use of prescription products for specific diseases and conditions, a factor that has to be taken into account. David will discuss this and the potential concerns it carries.

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