Bayer has been publicly criticised by the Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority (PMCPA), after advertising an erectile dysfunction medicine and a cannabis-based painkiller for multiple sclerosis on its Twitter feed.
The German drugs manufacturer, known for discovering Aspirin and heroin (originally sold as a cough medicine) will now be prominently named and shamed in advertisements in the British Medical Journal and other trade publications.
The regulator is not able to impose a fine but is able to cause embarrassment, the Financial Times newspaper noted. The news brings to light the dangers for businesses of using social networks to promote their products, particularly if there is a specific legal framework around them. In the medical industry in Europe, companies are not allowed to promote prescription medicines directly to members of the public.
The PMCPA said Bayer had brought "discredit upon", and reduced confidence in, the pharmaceutical industry, by using Twitter to promote Levitra and Savitex.
Bayer had also failed "to maintain high standards", and had wrongly encouraged members of the public "to ask their health professional to prescribe a specific prescription only medicine", a;sp breaching clauses of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, a trade body.
In March, Bayer announced Levitra on Twitter as the "first & only melt-in-the-mouth erectile dysfunction treatment". Three months later, it said Sativex was "launched in UK for the treatment of spasticity due to Multiple Sclerosis", the FT noted.
The regulator said that given the character limit on Twitter, the advertising was unlikely to meet stringent requirements on advertising being accurate and reaching healthcare professionals only.
Bayer said it "extended its sincere apologies", and told the newspaper that it "recognises the industry code of practice and, as a company, is absolutely committed to compliance with all laws, regulations and good business practices."
Its tweets, it said, linked to press releases with full information. But it remains unclear how many people who acted on the Twitter information clicked on the link.