UCPMP 2024: Game Changer or False Dawn?

On March 12, 2024, the Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP) of the Government of India notified the new Uniform Code for Pharmaceutical Marketing Practices (UCPMP) 2024.

Having gone through the details, many construe that aiming to finally clean up pharmaceutical marketing practices in India, as demanded by many stakeholders – including the Supreme Court of India, the new one released by the DoP in March 2024 still appears to be a ‘work in progress.’ One therefore, wonders whether UCPMP 2024 is a step forward or status quo in establishing desirable standards for pharma business ethics in India.

In this article, let me dwell on this issue, highlighting examples of some key points in this regard.

Some key points to take note of:

There are several key points to take note of some examples, which will include:

  • Unlike its predecessor, the 2024 UCPMP removes the word “voluntary” but doesn’t explicitly make the code mandatory. It requests industry associations to implement the code.
  • The code doesn’t explicitly prescribe penalties for pharmaceutical companies beyond removal from industry associations (if they are members).
  • Doctors who violate ethical codes can face license suspension and fines under the National Medical Commission (NMC) guidelines. However, the NMC’s stricter 2023 code revisions were put on hold due to industry pressure.

Thus, several issues, including the following, need to be answered, beyond any ambiguity whatsoever. That said, let me start with how the UCPMP 2024 brings both opportunities and challenges for Indian drug companies, and then we will try to fathom whether the new code as it presents today will prove to be a game changer to improve the quality of ethical standards, especially, in Indian pharmaceutical marketing. 

UCPMP 2024 – some key challenges for drug companies:

A.  Marketing Revamp:  The new UCPMP demands a complete overhaul of marketing practices and strategies. Companies need to find new, compliant ways to educate doctors about their products, likely focusing on:

  • Scientific Data and Value Proposition: Stronger clinical trial data and highlighting a drug’s actual benefits will be crucial.
  • Transparency and Credibility: Building trust with doctors through clear, accurate information and high-quality educational materials is essential.

B.  Salesforce Transformation: Medical representatives, previously reliant on personal connections, now need expertise in:

  • Scientific Communication: Effectively engaging doctors with the science behind the drug.
  • Product Knowledge: Deep understanding of the drugs they are promoting.
  • Potential Sales Slump: Stricter marketing might lead to a decline in sales, particularly for established brands that rely heavily on promotion. Companies need to adapt their sales strategies to address this.

Effectively navigating these challenges requires significant investments in:

  • R&D: Stronger focus on research and development to create innovative drugs with a clear value proposition.
  • Data-Driven Marketing: Utilizing data science to understand doctor needs and target marketing efforts effectively.
  • Salesforce Training: Upskilling representatives in scientific communication and product knowledge.

By adapting their approach, Indian drug companies can leverage UCPMP as an opportunity to move towards a model focused on the quality and scientific merit of their products.

UCPMP 2024 – some key opportunities for drug companies:

The UCPMP 2024, while presenting challenges, also offers some key opportunities for Indian drug companies to thrive:

  • Level Playing Field: The ban on gifts and incentives removes an unfair advantage for larger companies. This allows smaller or generic drug companies to compete based on the merits and affordability of their products.
  • Focus on Innovation: With less emphasis on promotion, companies may be incentivized to invest more in R&D, leading to the development of new, innovative drugs with stronger scientific backing.
  • Building Brand Trust: Transparency and accurate information mandated by UCPMP can help companies build trust with doctors and patients alike. This strong reputation can be a valuable asset in the long run.
  • Data-Driven Marketing: The shift towards data-driven marketing allows for targeted communication based on doctor needs and preferences. This can be more cost-effective and lead to better engagement with healthcare professionals.
  • Focus on Patient Education: UCPMP encourages companies to provide clear information directly to patients. This can empower patients to make informed decisions about their healthcare and potentially increase the demand for effective medication.

By capitalizing on these opportunities, Indian drug companies can:

  • Differentiate themselves: By focusing on innovation and patient-centricity, they can carve out a niche in the market.
  • Building long-term value: Investing in R&D and building trust with doctors can lead to sustainable growth and brand loyalty.
  • Becoming more competitive globally: A focus on innovation and scientific merit can help Indian companies compete effectively in the international pharmaceutical market.

Interestingly, the UCPMP presents a chance for Indian drug companies to move away from an outdated marketing model and embrace a more ethical and sustainable approach. By focusing on innovation, data-driven marketing, and building trust, they can seize this opportunity to become leaders in the global pharmaceutical industry.

Is UCPMP 2024 a game changer or a false dawn?

Having said all this, the question still remains whether UCPMP 2024 is a game changer or a false dawn. I reckon, while aiming to curb unethical practices in the pharmaceutical industry, questions linger about its effectiveness. Let’s delve into both sides of the argument:

A Game Changer:

  • Stronger Stance: The removal of “voluntary” from the code suggests a stricter approach compared to its predecessor.
  • Focus on Transparency: Provisions like mandatory expenditure disclosure for conferences organized by pharma companies could increase transparency.
  • Addressing Travel & Hospitality: Discouraging pharma-funded travel and hospitality for doctors might reduce undue influence.
  • Potential for Improved Ethics: A well-enforced UCPMP could lead to a more ethical environment where marketing focuses on the merits of drugs rather than lavish incentives.

False Dawn:

  • Missing Teeth: The lack of clear penalties beyond industry association removal for pharma companies raises concerns about enforcement.
  • Rollback of NMC Code: The NMC’s stricter code for doctors with potential financial penalties was rolled back due to industry pressure. This weakens the overall impact.
  • Ambiguity on Non-Member Companies: The code’s effectiveness might be limited if pharmaceutical companies outside industry associations are not held accountable.
  • Uncertain Implementation: The success of UCPMP hinges on robust implementation and a clear mechanism to address violations.


From the above perspective, the true impact of UCPMP 2024 remains to be seen. While it has positive intentions, its effectiveness depends on stricter enforcement mechanisms, penalizing violations, and ensuring all companies are held accountable. Only time will tell if UCPMP 2024 ushers in a new era of ethical practices or remains a symbolic but unenforced reform.

By: Tapan J. Ray

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.

UCPMP: Vacillating Between ‘The Perfect’ And ‘The Real’ World?

In the ‘perfect world’ one takes ‘perfect decisions’, while in the ‘real world’ one takes a ‘real decision’ – as the saying goes. In tandem, a raging debate continues on what is ‘perfect’ and what is ‘real’, in the world we live in today. This may cause a dilemma to many, which seems to be all pervasive today. Understandably, many critical industry practices and processes are also a part of this quagmire. The pharma industry, the world over, including India, is no exception, where such dilemma and debates span across virtually all the business domains of the industry.

However, in this article, I shall focus only on one specific issue – alleged pharma marketing malpractices that continue unabated, regardless of severe punitive measures in many cases, from several parts of the world. Has it then become a universal ‘culture’ in this area? For greater clarity, let me start the ball rolling by trying to understand the line that differentiates ‘the perfect world’ norms from ‘the real world’ ones.

Understanding the ‘line’ between the ‘Perfect World’ and the ‘Real World’:

I reckon, in ‘the perfect world’ people develop ideal values, ethical standards and practices. The social, business and economic environments also encourage and promote an uncompromising value system that culminates into perfect and desirable behavioral traits for all. Consequently, there are no grey areas in the ethics and value judgement, especially regarding what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’.

Whereas, in ‘real world’, the surrounding social, business and economic environment usually encourages and promotes self-serving interests, mostly from the shelter of ‘perfect world,’ as we shall see later. There also appears to be a flexibility in the overall value system – drawn around different guidelines, for preferred behavior and practices in most spheres of life. Consequently, one can spot many grey areas in that space, which are subject to different interpretation by different people. ‘Exceptions’ to the preferred behavior are also many.

As construed by many, one contemporary and broad example could perhaps be, the ethics, values and governance – enshrined in the Indian Constitution, arguably belong to the ‘perfect world.’ The same for ‘the real world’ is, what the majority of the population, including those who are governing the country demonstrate through words, deeds and action on the ground.

Living in ‘the real world’ – most expect others to practice ‘the perfect world’ norms:

Although, most people, including several different entities, actually prefer to live in ‘the real world,’ following commensurate practices and exceptions – generally expect others to practice ‘the perfect world’ norms – following commensurate ethics and values. Governments usually, try to exhibit that they want all citizens to be in ‘the perfect world’. However, under pressure of different nature, their policy enforcement arms keep maintain the status-quo of ‘the real world.’

Let me illustrate this point from the Indian perspective, with some recent examples related to the prevailing Uniform Code of Pharmaceutical Marketing Practices (UCPMP) in the country. Here itself, we shall find, even the Government machinery vacillating between the both worlds.

Government vacillating between ‘both worlds’:

A recent media report related to the ongoing allegation on pharma marketing malpractices in India raised a controversy. It reported, on January 13, 2020 – ‘PM Modi warns pharma companies not to bribe doctors with women, foreign trips and gadgets,’ during his meeting with the senior officials from top drug-makers. This move was, reportedly, triggered by the report of “Support for Advocacy and Training to Health (SATHI)” – an NGO.

Prior to this, on May 03, 2018, it was also widely reported, “Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently opened a Pandora’s box by condemning the allopathic doctors of the country during an interaction called ‘Bharat ki Baat, Sab ke Saath’ with the diaspora in London. The PM condemned the Indian doctors on charges of corruption and malpractice. He emphasized on the doctor-industry nexus and shared concerns on the fallout of such a relationship.”

The above statements, as reported, reflect deep anguish of the Prime Minister for violation of ethics and values in pharma marketing practices – as expected in the ‘Perfect World.’ Following this outburst at the top echelon of the country’s governance hierarchy, the logical general expectation is, commensurate action by the Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP), at least, to contain those contentious practices.

But, the Government seems to be vacillating: 

Instead, just after a few weeks from what was quoted in the above January 2020 report – on February 09, 2020 another media report highlighted something that confirms vacillation of the Indian Government from ‘the perfect world’ to ‘the real world’, albeit too frequently, on this issue.

Despite UCPMP being in force for all drug companies to abide by, voluntarily, since January 2015, the situation in this area hasn’t improved a bit, which the DoP also seems to be well aware of. The obvious question, therefore, that follows: Is the DoP on the same page as PM Modi?

Interestingly, despite the PM’s assertion in this regard, the DoP Secretary, reportedly, kept playing the same old tune even after 5 years of the UCPMP’s unsuccessful implementation. He again repeated: “We have strictly instructed all the stakeholders to follow the code voluntarily. If not complied seriously, the department will bring in stricter regulations at the time to come and also think about making it mandatory for effective compliance.” This threat, from the ‘perfect world’ perspective, continues with the ‘real world’ understanding for action.

The possible reason for the above vacillation:

Many consider, intense lobbying by the pharma associations as the possible reason for vacillation of the Government. This is vindicated by another report of January 17, 2020 that claimed, a powerful Indian industry association has sought multiple tweaks in the current UCPMP – meant for voluntary implementation by the drug industry in India. Two of these, among several others, were reported as follows:

  • Relaxed rules for the distribution of free samples.
  • Permission for doctors to work at pharmaceutical companies.

As reported, this proposal of the industry has been floated among pharmaceutical companies, for comments. ‘Once approved by all member companies, it will be sent to Department of Pharmaceuticals secretary P.D. Vaghela.’ However, it appears, there doesn’t seem to be anything new in it, as news archives reveal, similar proposals were submitted by the Indian drug industry associations, in the past, as well.

At this stage, let me hasten to add that the above January 2020 report, quoting the Indian PM’s anguish, was denied by a domestic industry association by a statement.

The first report was denied – albeit vaguely – by an industry association:

Curiously, the January 2020 report was denied by the domestic Industry Association - Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance (IPA) by releasing a statement. It said, the meeting convened by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the healthcare industry on January 01, 2020 was to discuss future road map for growth of the industry.

It further emphasized, the focus of the discussion was to promote research and development, build an innovation ecosystem, improve access to high-quality medicine and strengthen global competitiveness of the industry. The purpose was to take the industry to the next level and leverage opportunities going forward in the pharmaceutical sector. “There was no discussion on uniform code of pharmaceutical marketing practice in the meeting,” the statement added.

However, this statement appears rather vague to many, as it doesn’t emphatically deny that the PM did not say or mean those words, regardless of the context. Neither, the PMO, reportedly, has done so, as yet.

Probably because of this reason, another news article reported on January 15, 2020 that the Indian Medical Association, the country’s largest body of doctors, urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to “prove, deny, or apologize (for)” the purported statement attributed to him asking pharmaceutical companies ‘not to bribe doctors with foreign trips, gadgets and women.’ I am still not aware of any response from the PMO on the same. Hence, some people find the industry association’s statement, especially considering the core issue under discussion today, albeit vague.

Some key findings on UCPMP:

Be that as it may, as I indicated in one of my previous articles in this blog, a survey report by Ernst and Young titled, “Pharmaceutical marketing: ethical and responsible conduct”, was released in September 2011 on the UCMP and MCI guidelines. It highlighted some of the following points:

  • More than 50 percent of the respondents are of the opinion that the UCPMP may lead to manipulation in recording of actual sampling activity.
  • Over 50 percent of the respondents indicated that the effectiveness of the code would be very low in the absence of legislative support provided to the UCPMP committee.
  • 90 percent of the respondents felt that pharma companies in India should focus on building a robust internal control system to ensure compliance with the UCPMP.
  • 72 percent of the respondents felt that the MCI did not stringently enforce its medical ethics guidelines.
  • Just 36 percent of the respondents felt that the MCI’s guidelines would have an impact on the overall sales of pharma companies.

Although, this report may be a bit dated, its key findings don’t seem to have changed much as on date. It is also worth noting that there are umpteen examples of similar malpractices in the pharma industry, globally.


“Compared to a strictly controlled manufacturing environment, the marketing environment for the pharmaceutical industry in India is less regulated, but will move towards greater regulation in times to come”, predicted ‘The Global Guide to Pharma Marketing Codes,’ a few years ago. The situation remains unchanged.

Alongside controversy over pharma firms allegedly ‘bribing’ medical professionals, the Alliance of Doctors for Ethical Healthcare (ADEH), a network of doctors from across the country has demanded that the UCPMP framed five years ago be made mandatory, as another media report highlighted on January 21, 2020.

But the reality is, the Government wants the drug industry to follow ‘the perfect world’ ethics and values in marketing practices to safeguard patients all round interest. Whereas, the drug industry wants the policy makers to appreciate the business compulsions of ‘the real world’ and introduce exceptions to the rules.

Both the stances are unlikely to meet a common ground, because general population expects the Government to adhere to ethics and values of ‘the perfect world’, in health care. Whereas, in public, pharma industry leaders often take vows of practicing so, but seem to act differently in ‘the real world’ situation, expanding the credibility gap.

In the perceivable future, it appears unlikely that the Government’s ‘perfect world’ expectations, and the ‘real world’ actions of most pharma players will be in sync with each other. Unless, of course, either the Government moves away from ‘the real world’ marketing ethics and values – safeguarding patient interest, to meet ‘real world’ expectations of the industry, or make pharma players to fall in line with ‘the perfect world’ expectance, by making the UCPMP mandatory.

Is the question, therefore, how to take a ‘perfect world’ decision for the people’s health interest, in the ‘real world’ of the pharma industry? Till this issue is resolved, UCPMP will continue to exist, but no more than a ‘toothless tiger’, as it were.

By: Tapan J. Ray  

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.



Rebuilding Pharma Image: A Laudable Mindset – Lacking In Many

The fierce debate on ethics and compliance related issues in the pharma marketing practices still reverberates, across the globe. One of its key fallout has been ever-increasing negative consumer perception about this sector, sparing a very few companies, if at all. As a result, many key communications of the individual players, including the industry associations specifically targeted to them, are becoming less and less credible, if not ineffective.

Which is why, though pharma as an industry is innovative in offering new medicines, consumers don’t perceive it so. Despite several drug players’ taking important steps towards stakeholder engagement, consumers don’t perceive so. The list goes on and on. I discussed on such consumer perception in my article of June 26, 2017. Hence, won’t further go into that subject, here.

General allegation on the pharma industry continues to remain unchanged, such as the drug industry tries to influence the medical profession, irrespective of whether they write prescription drugs for patients or are engaged in regulatory trial related activities aimed at product marketing.

Let me give an example to illustrate the later part of it, and in the Indian context. On April 26, 2017, it was reported that responding to a joint complaint filed by Mylan and Biocon in 2016, alleging that the Roche Group indulged in “abusive conduct”, the Competition Commission of India (CCI) gave directions for carrying out a detailed investigation on the subject. This probe was initiated to ascertain, whether Roche used its dominant position to maintain its monopoly over the breast cancer drug Trastuzumab, adversely impacting its access to many patients.

Such a scenario, though, undoubtedly disturbing, is very much avoidable. Thus, winning back the fading trust of the consumers in the industry, should be ticked as a top priority by the concerned parties.

In this article, I shall mostly focus on some recent developments related to ethics and compliance issues, mainly in pharma marketing, and with a small overlap on the regulatory and other areas, as and when required to drive home a point.

It shakes the trust base on the medical profession too:

This menace, as it were, though, more intense in India, is neither confined to its shores alone, nor just to the pharma industry, notwithstanding several constituents of big pharma have been implicated in mega bribery scandals in different countries. There doesn’t seem to be much doubt, either, that its impact has apparently shaken the very base of trust even on the medical profession, in general.

Not very long ago, Dr. Samiran Nundy, while holding the positions of Chairman, Department of Surgical Gastroenterology and Organ Transplantation at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Current Medicine Research and Practice, reportedly exposed the widespread malpractices of the doctors in India who are taking cuts for referrals and prescribing unnecessary drugs, investigations and procedures for profit.

This practice continues even today, unabated. On June 18, 2017, it was widely reported in India that Maharashtra Government has decided to form a 3-member committee for suggesting effective ways to check the ‘cut practice’ of doctors. This decision followed a public awareness campaign on this subject, initiated by well-reputed late heart surgeon – Dr. Ramakanta Panda’s Asian Heart Institute, located in Mumbai. The hospital had put up a hoarding saying: ‘No commission. Only honest medical opinion’. The Indian Medical Association opposed the hoarding. But the hospital wrote to Maharashtra medical education minister seeking a legislation to fight this malpractice.

To contain this malady across India, for the sake of patients, Dr. Nundy had then suggested that to begin with, “The Medical Council of India (MCI), currently an exclusive club of doctors, has to be reconstituted. Half the members must be lay people like teachers, social workers and patient groups like the General Medical Council in Britain, where, if a doctor is found to be corrupt, he is booted out by the council.”

This subject continues to remain an open secret, just as pharma marketing malpractices, and remains mostly confined to the formation of various committees.

“Corruption ruins the doctor-patient relationship in India” – a reconfirmation:

“Corruption ruins the doctor-patient relationship in India” - highlighted an article published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) on 08 May 2014. Its author – David Berger wrote, “Kickbacks and bribes oil every part of the country’s health care machinery and if India’s authorities cannot make improvements, international agencies should act.”

He reiterated, it’s a common complaint, both of the poor and the middle class, that they don’t trust their doctors from the core of hearts. They don’t consider them honest, and live in fear of having no other choice but to consult them, which results in high levels of doctor shopping. David Berger also deliberated on the widespread corruption in the pharmaceutical industry, with doctors bribed to make them prescribe specified drugs.

The article does not fail to mention that many Indian doctors do have huge expertise, are honorable and treat their patients well. However, as a group, doctors generally have a poor reputation.

Until the medical profession together with the pharma industry is prepared to tackle this malady head-on and acknowledge the corrosive effects of medical corruption, the doctor-patient relationship will continue to lie in tatters, the paper says.

Uniform code of ethical pharma marketing practices:

This brings us to the need of a uniform code of ethical pharma marketing practices. Such codes, regardless of whether voluntary or mandatory, are developed to ensure that pharma companies, either individually or collectively, indulge in ethical marketing practices, comply with all related rules and regulations, avoid predominantly self-serving goals and conflict interest with the medical profession, having an adverse impact on patients’ health interest.

This need was felt long ago. Accordingly, various pharma companies, including their trade associations, came up with their own versions of the same, for voluntary practice. As I wrote before, such codes of voluntary practice, mostly are not working. That hefty fines are being levied by the government agencies in various countries, that include who’s who of the drug industry around the world, with India being a major exception in this area, would vindicate the point.

Amid all these, probably a solitary global example of demonstrable success with the implementation of voluntary codes of ethical pharma marketing practices, framed by a trade association in a major western country of the world, now stands head and shoulders above others.

Standing head and shoulders above others:

On June 23, 2017, the international business daily – ‘Financial Times’ (FT), reported: “Drug maker Astellas sanctioned for ‘shocking’ patient safety failures”

Following ‘a series of shocking breaches of guidelines’ framed by ‘The Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority (PMCPA)’ – an integral part of the ‘Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI)’, publicly threatened the Japanese drug major – Astellas, for a permanent expulsion from the membership of the Association. However, PMCPA ultimately decided to limit the punishment to a 12-month suspension, after the company accepted its rulings and pledged to make the necessary changes. Nevertheless, Astellas could still be expelled, if PMCPA re-audit in October do not show any “significant progress” in the flagged areas – the report clarified.

Interestingly, just in June last year, ABPI had suspended Astellas for 12 months ‘because of breaches related to an advisory board meeting and deception, including providing false information to PMCPA’. The company had also failed to provide complete prescribing information for several medicines, as required by the code – another report highlights.

Astellas is one of the world’s top 20 pharmaceutical companies by revenue with a market capitalization of more than £20bn. In 2016 its operations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa generated revenues of €2.5bn –reports the FT.

What is PMCPA?

One may be interested to fathom how seriously the implementation of the uniform code of pharmaceutical marketing practice is taken in the United Kingdom (UK), and how transparent the system is.

The Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority (PMCPA) is the self-regulatory body which administers the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry’s (ABPI) Code of Practice for the Pharmaceutical Industry, independent of the ABPI. It is a not-for-profit body, which was established by the ABPI on 1 January 1993. In other words, the PMCPA is a division of the British pharma trade association – ABPI.

According to PMCPA website, it:

  • Operates the complaints procedure under which the materials and activities of pharmaceutical companies are considered in relation to the requirements of the Code.
  • Provides advice and guidance on the Code.
  • Provides training on the Code.
  • Arranges conciliation between pharmaceutical companies when requested to do so.
  • Scrutinizes samples of advertisements and meetings to check their compliance with the Code.

As I often quote: ‘proof of the pudding is in eating’, it may not be very difficult to ascertain, how a constructive collective mindset of those who are on the governing board of a pharma trade association, can help re-creating the right image for the pharma industry, in a meaningful way.

Advertisements and public reprimands for code violations:

The PMCPA apparently follows a system to advertise in the medical and pharmaceutical press brief details of all cases where companies are ruled in breach of the Code. The concerned companies are required to issue a corrective statement or are the subject of a public reprimand.

For the current year, the PMCPA website has featured the details of three ABPI members as on May 2017, namely, Gedeon Richter, Astellas, and Gedeon Richter, for breaching the ethical code of practices.

However, in 2016, as many as 15 ABPI members featured in this list of similar violations. These are:  Vifor Pharma, Celgene, Takeda, Pierre Fabre, Grünenthal Ltd, Boehringer Ingelheim Limited, Eli Lilly, AstraZeneca, Janssen-Cilag, Astellas, Stirling Anglian, Guerbet, Napp, Hospira, Genzyme, Bausch & Lomb and Merck Serono. It is worth noting that the names of some these major companies had appeared more than once, during that year.

I am quoting the names of those companies breaching the ABPI code, just to illustrate the level of transparency in this process. The details of previous years are available at the same website. As I said, this is probably a solitary example of demonstrable success with the implementation of voluntary practices of ethical pharma marketing codes, framed by any pharma trade association.

In conclusion:

Many international pharmaceutical trade associations, which are primarily the lobbying outfits, are known as the strong votaries of self-regulations of the uniform code of ethical pharma marketing practices, including in India. Some of them are also displaying these codes in their respective websites. However, regardless of all this, the ground reality is, the much-charted path of the well-hyped self-regulation by the industry to stop this malaise, is not working. ABPI’s case, I reckon, though laudable, may well be treated as an exception. 

In India, even the Government in power today knows it and publicly admitted the same. None other than the secretary of the Department of pharmaceuticals reportedly accepted this fact with the following words: “A voluntary code has been in place for the last few months. However, we found it very difficult to enforce it as a voluntary code. Hence, the government is planning to make it compulsory.”

Following this, as reported on March 15, 2016, in a written reply to the Lok Sabha, the Minister of State for Chemicals and Fertilizers, categorically said that the Government has decided to make the Uniform Code of Pharmaceutical Marketing Practice (UCPMP) mandatory to control unethical practices in the pharma industry.

The mindset that ABPI has demonstrated on voluntary implementation of their own version of UCPMP, is apparently lacking in India. Thus, to rebuild the pharma industry image in the country and winning back the trust of the society, the mandatory UCPMP with a robust enforcement machinery, I reckon, is necessary – without any further delay.

However, the sequence of events in the past on the same, trigger a critical doubt: Has the mandatory UCPMP slipped through the crack created by the self-serving interest of pharma lobbyists, including all those peripheral players whose business interests revolve round the current pharma marketing practices. Who knows?

Nonetheless, the bottom line remains: the mandatory UCPMP is yet to be enforced in India… if at all!

By: Tapan J. Ray

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.

India’s Pharma Marketing Code (UCPMP): Is It Crafted Well Enough To Deliver The Deliverables?

On December 12, 2014, the Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP) of the Government of India announced details of the ‘Uniform Code of Pharmaceutical Marketing Practices (UCPMP)’, which would be effective across the country from January 1, 2015.

Just to recapitulate, the DoP came out with a draft UCPMP on March 19, 2012, inviting stakeholders’ comments. Immediately thereafter, the officials at the highest level of the department held several discussions on that draft with the constituents of the pharmaceutical industry, Ministry of Health, Medical Council of India (MCI), besides other stakeholders. Unfortunately, no decision on the subject was taken for nearly three years since then, probably due to intense lobbying by interested constituents.

It is heartening to witness now that the new government, within six months of coming into the office, has ensured that the long awaited UCPMP sees the light of the day. The Dos and Don’ts of the Code for the pharma industry appear to be a replica of the same that the Medical Council of India (MCI) had announced for the doctors, several years ago.

Though UCPMP is not a panacea for all malpractices in the pharma industry, with this announcement, the government at least has sent a clear signal to errant pharma players to shape up, soon. The Government’s action on the subject is also laudable from the good governance perspective, as the codes are quite appropriate to uphold public health interest.

Having acknowledged that unambiguously, I would deliberate in this article why, in my opinion, not much thought has gone to ensure effective implementation of the UCPMP, where subjectivity and vagueness prevail. Moreover, the absence of strong deterrent measures in the document may seriously impede its impact. I shall also briefly touch upon whether self-regulation in pharma marketing practices has worked or not on the ground, globally.

Before I do that, a quick recapitulation of the relevant background, I reckon, would be meaningful.

What necessitated regulation in pharma marketing?

Pro-active role of the pharmaceutical industry in the fight against diseases of all kinds and severity is absolutely critical for any nation.

As happens in most other industries, the ultimate economic performance of a pharma player too predominantly depends on how productive are its sales and marketing activities. In a situation like this, the current ‘free for all model’ of pharma sales and marketing, where end results dominate the means adopted, usually places the profit earning objectives much ahead of public health interest. As result, higher priced medicines are prescribed more, even where their lower price equivalents of similar quality standards are available, besides over or unnecessary prescribing of drugs.

Dubious models are springing up at regular intervals, aiming at achieving all-important objective of generation of more and more prescriptions, which differentiate men from the boys in the pharma marketing warfare.

It is widely alleged that public perceptions are also craftily created on the quality of medicines. All branded generic drugs, including those manufactured by little known companies, are made to perceive better than their cheaper non-branded equivalents, even if coming from better-known and reputed manufacturers. Such industry created perceptions, cleverly channelized through some doctors with vested interests, enhance the drug treatment costs for the patients, significantly.

Other modes of gratifications under different guises also put significant number of doctors in a dilemma between cost effective prescription requirements of the patients and commercial expectations of the pharma players.

To meet with this challenge, the World Health Organization (WHO) in its publication, ‘Pharmaceutical Legislation and Regulation’, clearly articulated that realistic and effective laws and regulations are needed for the pharmaceutical sector, where informal controls are insufficient. This is mainly because of the following two factors:

  • Medicines concern the whole population
  • The consumer has no way to choose the drug and its price

The new government acts:

Irrespective of whatever had happened in the past, no government with a reasonable agenda of ‘Good Governance’ can afford to ignore the conflict of interests of such kind and magnitude between the doctors and patients.

Hence, comes the importance of uniform codes of pharma marketing practices that can be carefully monitored, thoroughly implementable and measured with transparent yardsticks.

As the World Medical Association states, the key ethical basis for any such code is the understanding that the values of clinical care, of the welfare of society and of science should prevail over commercial imperatives and monetary concerns.

In one of my earlier blog posts of July 07, 2014 titled,“Kickbacks And Bribes Oil Every Part of India’s healthcare Machinery” – A National Shame, I deliberated on similar issues.

Vagueness in measuring delivery of the deliverables:

Let me now get back to the UCPMP. As mentioned in the draft proposal of 2012, after six months from the date of its coming into effect, the government would review the quality of implementation of the UCPMP by the pharma players and their trade associations. If the same is found unsatisfactory, the DoP may consider a statutory code, thereafter.

Interestingly, nothing has been mentioned in the UCPMP document about the process that would be followed by the government to assess the quality of implementation of the Code after six months prompting the DoP to take a very crucial decision, either way.

Vagueness in monitoring UCPMP:

The UCPMP of the DoP states, the Managing Director/CEO of the company is ultimately responsible for ensuring the adherence to the code and the executive head of the company should submit a self-declaration within two months from the date of issue of UCPMP. Thereafter, within two months of the end of every financial year, the declaration needs to be submitted to the respective industry associations for uploading those on the Associations’ websites. These declarations must also be uploaded on the website of the respective companies.

As we know, there are several thousands of pharma marketing players in India. Many of these players, especially those in the micro and small-scale sectors, including their trade associations, do not maintain websites either. Thus, it would be interesting to know how does the DoP monitor such declarations bi-monthly in the six months’ time, to start with.

Lack of strong deterrents and cumbersome process:

There are no strong deterrent measures in the UCPMP to minimize flouting of the code, nor would the complaint filing process encourage any victim with relevant details, such as patients, to lodge a complaint after paying non-refundable Rs.1, 000. It is beyond an iota of doubt that patients are the ultimate victims of most of sales and marketing malpractices by the pharma players.

Moreover, this non-refundable money would ultimately go to whom and how would it be used are still unclear.

Self-regulation in pharma marketing has hardly worked anywhere:

Many international pharmaceutical trade associations, which are primarily the lobbying bodies, are the strong votaries of self-regulations by the industry. They have also created many documents in this regard, which are also displayed in their respective websites.

However, despite all these show pieces, the ground reality is that, the well-hyped self-regulation by the industry to stop the menace of pharma marketing malpractices is not working, anywhere.

As I indicated earlier, the following are a few recent examples of just the last two years to help fathom the enormity of the problem and also to vindicate the point made above:

  • In March 2014, the antitrust regulator of Italy reportedly fined two Swiss drug majors, Novartis and Roche 182.5 million euros (U$ 251 million) for allegedly blocking distribution of Roche’s Avastin cancer drug in favor of a more expensive drug Lucentis that the two companies market jointly for an eye disorder.
  • Just before this, in the same month of March 2014, it was reported that a German court had fined 28 million euro (US$ 39 million) to the French pharma major Sanofi and convicted two of its former employees on bribery charges.
  • In November 2013, Teva Pharmaceutical reportedly said that an internal investigation turned up suspect practices in countries ranging from Latin America to Russia.
  • In May 2013, Sanofi was reportedly fined US$ 52.8 Million by the French competition regulator for trying to limit sales of generic versions of the company’s Plavix.
  • In August 2012, Pfizer Inc. was reportedly fined US$ 60.2 million by the US Securities and Exchange Commission to settle a federal investigation on alleged bribing of overseas doctors and other health officials to prescribe medicines.
  • In April 2012, a judge in Arkansas, US, reportedly fined Johnson & Johnson and a subsidiary more than US$1.2 billion after a jury found that the companies had minimized or concealed the dangers associated with an antipsychotic drug.

A survey on UCPMP:

A survey report of Ernst and Young titled, “Pharmaceutical marketing: ethical and responsible conduct”, carried out in September 2011 on the UCMP and MCI guidelines, highlighted some of the following points:

  • More than 50 percent of the respondents are of the opinion that the UCPMP may lead to manipulation in recording of actual sampling activity.
  • Over 50 percent of the respondents indicated that the effectiveness of the code would be very low in the absence of legislative support provided to the UCPMP committee.
  • 90 percent of the respondents felt that pharma companies in India should focus on building a robust internal controls system to ensure compliance with the UCPMP.
  • 72 percent of the respondents felt that the MCI was not stringently enforcing its medical ethics guidelines.
  • Just 36 percent of the respondents felt that the MCI’s guidelines would have an impact on the overall sales of pharma companies.

Disclosure norms necessary:

It is interesting to note that many countries have started acting in this area enforcing various regulatory disclosure norms. Some examples are as follows:


The justice department of the U.S has reportedly wrung huge settlements from many large companies over allegedly unholy nexus between the doctors and the pharmaceutical players.

To address this issue, on February 1, 2013 the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) of the United States released the final rules of implementation of the ‘Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA)’, which is commonly known as the “Physician Payment Sunshine Act” or just the “Sunshine Act”.

This Act has been a part of President Obama’s healthcare reform requiring transparency in direct or indirect financial transactions between the American pharmaceutical industry and the doctors and was passed in 2010 by the US Congress as part of the PPACA.

The Sunshine Act requires public disclosure of all financial transactions and transfers of value between manufacturers of pharmaceutical / biologic products or medical devices and physicians, hospitals and covered recipients. The Act also requires disclosure on research fees and doctors’ investment interests.

These disclosure reports are available on a public database effective September 30th, 2014.


In December 2011, France adopted legislation, which is quite similar to the ‘Sunshine Act’. This Act requires the health product companies like, pharmaceutical, medical device and medical supply manufacturers, among others to mandatorily disclose any contract entered with entities like, health care professionals, hospitals, patient associations, medical students, nonprofit associations, companies with media services or companies providing advice regarding health products.


On January 1, 2012, Netherlands enforced the ‘Code of Conduct on Transparency of Financial Relations’. This requires the pharmaceutical companies to disclose specified payments made to health care professionals or institutions in excess of € 500 in total through a centralized “transparency register” within three months after the end of every calendar year.


Pharmaceutical companies in the UK are planning voluntary disclosures of such payments. One can expect enforcement of such laws in the entire European Union, soon.

Australia and Slovakia:

Similar requirements also exist in Australia and Slovakia.


In Japan, the Japan Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association (JPMA) reportedly requires their member companies to disclose certain payments to health care professionals and medical institutions on their websites, starting from 2013.

So, why not enforce such disclosure norms in India too?


December 12, 2014 announcement of the UCPMP in its self-regulatory mode sends a message of good intent of the government to curb pharma marketing malpractices in India, which are threats to the society.

However, I reckon, the document is rather weak in its effective implementation potential. Meaningful and transparent deterrent measures to uphold public health interest are also lacking. The entire process also deserves a well-structured monitoring mechanism and digital implementation tools that can be operated with military precision.

It also raises a key question – Is this UCPMP good enough, especially after witnessing that self-regulation in pharma marketing practices is not working in most countries of the world?

In that sense, would the UCPMP, in its current avatar, with weak enforcement potential, shorn of enough deterrent against violations and commensurate sanctions, be able to deliver the requisite deliverables?

By: Tapan J. Ray

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.