The State Agency of Medicines is investigating Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD), after allegations that the pharmaceutical company veiled promotional events under the guise of training workshops to market its product Nuvaring to doctors.
The journalists who uncovered the event called it brainwash. Doctors attending the event, which was presented as a training conference, were treated to drinks and entertainment by spunky, well-dressed waitresses. Pop songs were performed and the audience invited to sing along, with the lyrics remade to encompass the drug company's name, MSD, in the choruses.
The first half of the event could qualify for a seminar, kicking off with three neutral and informative lectures. "But then it degenerated to an onslaught of advertising," said Aivar Hundimägi, the editor of Äripäev's investigative reporting desk, whose undercover reporter brought the event to daylight. "Our conviction is that this was an advertising event for the benefit of one specific medication, but it was veiled as a seminar or workshop," he told ETV.
There were only good things to say about the product, Nuvaring, with no mention of its potential dangers. "This breaks both the legal and ethical code," said Hundimägi, adding that doctors and drug companies have taken a defensive stance.
Director Riho Tapfer, of the Association of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers, stressed the line between professional workshops - which don't permit logos and are organized by professional associations, never by single companies - and promotion events. "Most likely, this was to introduce a single product, the substance and nature of [the occasion] categorized by medical law as a promotional event," said Tapfer.
As the second largest parmaceutical firm in the world, MSD entered the Estonian market 10 years ago to become one of the main local producers of medicine.