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Navigating the muddy waters of pharma compliance at meetings

It may not be the most exciting topic, but the issue of compliance at medical meetings is still hot, and probably will be for a while.

Every year in March, the International Pharmaceutical Congress Advisory Association (IPCAA) organises its two day conference for the purpose of enhancing the dialogue between all the major players in medical meetings. That is primarily the whole gamut of regulatory bodies all with their own acronym (see box), the pharma companies, medical societies, destinations and PCOs. This year’s meeting was perhaps a little more subdued than usual, quite simply because the main messages seem to have been absorbed by all involved. But that doesn’t mean that things are not changing. They are, progressively. And, on many fronts it is wise to keep a close eye on how it will affect the medicals meetings business, no matter which part you’re are involved in.

Of the ± 100 participants, the overwhelming majority (40%) were from the pharma companies, almost all of whom are active members of IPCAA. Depending on what type of meeting you hold, and who you talk to, these companies still represent the bulk of the income for most meetings, anything from 30-80%. And, it is this model that is changing under the combined pressure of the various regulatory bodies, and ‘perception’ within the pharma industry. This was the key term being bandied about by many in the audience. While the IPCAA pharma participants are decision makers in their own right for the congresses they support, they are now clearly guided by the press politics at the top, at board and shareholder level. Pharma wants to be squeaky clean, and this extra self-regulation is now a modus operandi for most companies. In the world we live in, a little ironic perhaps when companies in, for example, the defence industry, have no issues in indulging participants and partners in well supported junkets!

Marie Claire Pickaert from EFPIA and Christine Sainvil from EUCOMED expanded further on the progress being made and their expectations for the future. EFPIA, with its now infamous traffic light system, has seen significant progress; ‘three years ago we fell on deaf ears, now people listen’. EFPIA is not in favour of the total exclusion of industry support, and sees transparency as the main priority at the moment.

EDMA and EUCOMED take a harder line. They don’t see voluntary transparency by industry, an often heard option, as a solution. They already have steps in place to head off all funding of support for meetings from medical device companies, with implementation in 2018. They are also not supportive of industry funding of CME, so are working with a few societies to find better alternatives to replace this huge industry. It will be interesting to see where this goes.

Which brings us to UEMS and EACCME, who were conspicuous by their absence. They play such an essential role in the compliance issues for the scientific programmes; it was strange that they were not involved. Hopefully next year.

Without doubt, IPCAA has become the best forum where all the major players in the medical meetings industry come together. It remains a bit of a pity that the dialogue is dominated by pharma and the regulatory bodies. There were a number of senior representatives from medical associations, and it was clear they also had a message since their existence now appears to be thrown into confusion. Michael Walker from EAACI probably summed it up best by saying that ‘getting clear and consistent guidance is a major issue’. In other words, whether it comes from the regulatory bodies or pharma, the societies struggle with a changing playing field every year. Many of the speakers used one particular country to illustrate their frustration. Without any warning (and we all know that meeting space is booked years in advance), the national authorities in The Netherlands decided to interpret EU directives very differently to other countries. The result is that non-prescribing groups like nurses, researchers, and patient organisations are effectively excluded from the meetings, thus undermining one of the major missions of all societies. Instances like this only add to Walker’s argument!


EFPIA -European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations

EUCOMED - is an organisation advocating for the interests of the medical device industry in Europe.

EDMA - European Diagnostic Manufacturers Association

UEMS - European Union of Medical Specialists

EACCME - European Accreditation Council for CME

EAACI - European Academy of Allergy and. Clinical Immunology