BMS makes changes to its promotional spend policy in China, a physician is sentenced to prison for accepting kickbacks, and the FDA agrees to allow Amarin to promote its fish oil drug for off-label purposes.

“Beware the Ides of March,” and with good reason. Not only was Julius Caesar assassinated during the Ides, but Czar Nicholas II abdicated his throne, the Nazi’s occupied Czechoslovakia, and the issuance of global health alert concerning the SARS virus all occurred on that infamous date. While plenty of good things probably happened as well, we’re stocking up on horseshoes and four leaf clovers here at the News in Review headquarters, just in case. As we wait for the clock to tick down on March 15th, let’s look at the fortunes of those who made news in the world of compliance, with this edition of the News in Review (fingers crossed it isn’t all bad).

Advice from a soothsayer isn’t necessary for BMS to make changes to its promotional spending policy in China. The company will no longer pay speaker fees to doctors, and will be cutting is spending on entertainment and donations to medical associations due to red flags identified in its Chinese operations. This is second wave of changes for BMS in China, following the company’s settlement with the SEC over violations of the FCPA.

Misfortune has certainly followed one Chicago doctor into March. Dr. Michael Reinstein was sentenced to nine months in prison for accepting kickbacks when issuing prescriptions for clozapine. The doctor admitted to accepting close to $600,000 in kickbacks for prescribing the drug. The defense requested probation, but the judge rejected the request, saying Dr. Reinstein’s patients were among the most vulnerable in society and he violated the trust of those patients when he accepted the kickbacks.

The news isn’t all bad in the Ides, though. The FDA has agreed to allow Amarin to promote its fish oil drug for off-label purposes. Amarin filed suit against the FDA claiming the agency was violating its free speech rights by trying to restrict the company from sharing truthful off-label information in its promotion of the drug. The FDA agreed to be bound by the decision issued in US District Court, which allowed the truthful off-label promotion of the drug. The agency says “the settlement is specific to this particular case and situation, and does not signify a position on the First Amendment and commercial speech.”

As witnessed by the FDA’s statement on the Amarin settlement, a definitive stance regarding the use of off-label information when promoting a product seems to still be a moving target. While companies and legal-types debate how this decision, and other free-speech cases, should be interpreted and applied, we see it as another opportunity to highlight all the legal requirements around product promotion. Providing fair-balance, making accurate, truthful and not-misleading statements are just as important when promoting a prescription drug or device. As an example, notice of violation letters sent by OPDP in recent years typically site inaccurate and misleading statements as the reason for the notice.

With that, we put a green ribbon on this “pre” Saint Patrick’s Day edition of the Compliance News in Review. Here’s hoping the Ides treat you well. Have a great week everyone and stay compliant!