By Natalie Grover
LONDON (Reuters) -Danish drugmaker Novo Nordisk has been suspended from the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) for two years over what the ABPI on Thursday described as "serious breaches" of its code of practice.
ABPI's statement linked to a website of a self-regulatory body run by the association that pointed to a complaint alleging that Novo Nordisk had sponsored courses on weight management on LinkedIn for health professionals, without making clear the company's involvement.
The move amounted to "bribing health professionals with an inducement to prescribe," the complaint alleged.
In response, Novo said that it had agreed to provide sponsorship to ensure that health professionals would receive training from a reputable provider, but that it had supported the activity at "arms length".
However, an ABPI panel concluded that the company's provision of funding for health professionals, including training over two years on how to set up a weight-loss service, was clearly linked to the promotion of its drug Saxenda and intended to directly increase its use.
"While we are disappointed with this outcome, we accept the decision. We will remain committed to following the ABPI Code of Practice and maintaining the highest possible ethical standards required by the pharmaceutical industry," a company spokesperson said.
This is only eighth time in the past four decades the ABPI has issued such a significant sanction.
Novo will subject to audits in 2023 and 2024, where it will need to show "clear, significant and sustained improvement" for the ABPI board to consider allowing the company to resume membership after the two-year suspension.
The suspension follows the departure of Pinder Sahota, Novo's British business head, who resigned from his role as ABPI president last month to avoid the breach becoming a "distraction" from the association's "vital work" while the complaint was being investigated.
Novo is the market leader in the rapidly growing area of weight loss through medicinal treatment rather than only dieting or exercising.
Wealthy nations are grappling with fast-climbing rates of obesity and related conditions such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Saxenda is an older drug that has been approved for weight loss. Novo has since developed a more effective obesity treatment called Wegovy, which has been in great demand globally and is being lined up for its UK launch.
(Reporting by Natalie Grover in London and Ludwig Burger in FrankfurtEditing by Toby Chopra and David Goodman)