Dear Colleagues!  This is Asrar Qureshi’s Blog Post #797 for Pharma Veterans. Pharma Veterans welcome sharing of knowledge and wisdom by Veterans for the benefit of Community at large. Pharma Veterans Blog is published by Asrar Qureshi on WordPress, the top blog site. Please email to for publishing your contributions here.

Several posts shall be published under this topic, but each post shall be complete in itself.


Pharmaceutical Industry is highly competitive world over, and the same is the case in Pakistan. There are around 750 manufacturing companies, and an uncounted number of marketing companies which are generating over 700 billion rupees of market sales. Government and institutional buying are over and above this.

Unlike many other countries, Pakistan pharma market is highly unevenly distributed. Over 90% business is held by about 50 companies while all others are competing within 10% business only. This unfavorable pattern has its own issues which may be discussed separately.

Marketing, in the simplest terms, is the process of taking the products to customers and market and engage them in a productive way to generate business for the organization. Pharma marketing is slightly different because the consumer is patient, but pharma companies cannot contact the patient directly. Even if they could, the patient does not decide which medicine to take. It is the job of doctors to diagnose and advise treatment to patients which includes drug treatment also. Pharma companies marketing therefore, focuses on doctors.

Pharma marketing people design various tools and campaigns to get attention of doctors, including but not limited to, information tools, service tools, and engagement tools. Information tools are product brochures, study reprints, magazines, books, presentations, seminars, symposia, conferences, and discussions. Service tools are supporting patient welfare programs, sponsoring continuous medical education, patient education programs, patients screening programs, free samples, sponsorship of drug trials etc. Engagement tools are gifts, excursions, get togethers, sponsorships to attend conferences in Pakistan and abroad, and many more. Engagement tools have come under scrutiny because there is a thin line between engagement and influencing.

Pharma marketing is expensive, and the cost of marketing has been rising steadily due to multiple factors. Generic products business in Pakistan has seen a sharp rise during the last four decades, and since all generic versions of a particular are essentially the same, therefore, marketing effort is increased to create the difference for attracting the customers. This is the area where ethics get blurred at times.

Ethical pharma marketing is a large subject with detailed guidelines from various international health authorities. Many companies have been prosecuted and fined internationally for crossing the line of ethical marketing, and these included the most famous pharma companies. Unethical marketing practices are also a large subject where pharma companies find innovative ways to corrupt their customers in their favor. I wrote a series of posts on this topic earlier.

Pakistan has seen many changes in pharma marketing in the last 25 years. Marketing has become more aggressive, forceful, yet refined and of high quality. It does cross the ethics line in many ways and quite often, but it remains ignored. There is some hue and cry sometimes, but no action is taken because everyone is involved in it.

Increasing cost of pharma marketing has widened the gap between large and small companies further. Large companies have more resources to invest on marketing and keep gaining market share at the cost of smaller companies.

Having said that, ethics in pharmaceutical marketing is an important consideration to ensure that the promotion and sale of medical products align with ethical principles and prioritize the well-being of patients. Here are some key points highlighting the ethical considerations in pharmaceutical marketing, and how to be more ethical.

1. Transparency and truthfulness: Pharmaceutical marketing should prioritize transparency and truthfulness by providing accurate and comprehensive information about products, including their benefits, potential risks, and limitations. This ensures that healthcare professionals and patients can make informed decisions based on reliable information.

2. Avoidance of misleading advertising: Marketing materials should avoid any form of misleading or deceptive advertising practices. This includes avoiding exaggerated claims, selective presentation of data, or manipulative tactics that may mislead healthcare professionals or patients about the true efficacy or safety profile of a medication.

3. Disclosure of potential conflicts of interest: Pharmaceutical marketing efforts should disclose any potential conflicts of interest, particularly when engaging with healthcare professionals or organizations. This promotes transparency and helps maintain trust by allowing individuals to assess any potential biases that could influence prescribing or promotional practices.

4. Respect for patient privacy and confidentiality: Ethical pharmaceutical marketing respects patient privacy and confidentiality. Patient data should be handled securely and protected from unauthorized access or use. Pharmaceutical companies should comply with applicable privacy regulations and guidelines when collecting, storing, and utilizing patient information for marketing purposes.

5. Appropriate targeting and advertising: Pharmaceutical marketing should target appropriate audiences and healthcare professionals who are likely to benefit from the product. Marketing efforts should focus on providing relevant information to the target audience, ensuring that promotional activities do not unduly influence healthcare professionals to prescribe medications that may not be in the best interest of the patient.

6. Balance between promotion and education: Ethical pharmaceutical marketing should strike a balance between promotion and education. Marketing materials should provide valuable educational content that helps healthcare professionals and patients better understand the condition, treatment options, and potential benefits and risks of a medication. This approach fosters a collaborative relationship based on shared decision-making.

7. Adherence to regulatory guidelines: Pharmaceutical marketing should adhere to all applicable regulatory guidelines and codes of conduct established by regulatory bodies, professional associations, and industry organizations. This includes following guidelines regarding promotional materials, interactions with healthcare professionals, and appropriate use of scientific data.

8. Continuous monitoring and evaluation: Ethical pharmaceutical marketing involves continuous monitoring and evaluation of marketing strategies and tactics to ensure compliance with ethical standards. This may include regular audits, internal controls, and independent oversight to identify and rectify any potential ethical breaches.

9. Social responsibility: Pharmaceutical companies have a social responsibility to contribute to the well-being of society. Ethical pharmaceutical marketing should take into account the social impact of their marketing practices and consider the affordability, accessibility, and availability of medications, especially in underserved populations.

10. Collaboration with healthcare professionals: Ethical pharmaceutical marketing fosters collaboration and respectful relationships with healthcare professionals. Instead of solely focusing on sales targets, marketing efforts should prioritize building long-term partnerships, providing value through educational initiatives, and supporting healthcare professionals in delivering quality care to their patients.

By adhering to these ethical principles, pharmaceutical companies can ensure that their marketing practices align with the best interests of patients and healthcare professionals while maintaining trust and integrity in the industry.

At present, our pharma industry hovers over the boundary between ethical and unethical marketing, with frequent forays into the forbidden territory. Serious steps are desired from all stakeholders to stay on the ethical side.


Disclaimer: Most pictures in these blogs are taken from Google Images and Pexels. Credit is given where known; some do not show copyright ownership. However, if a claim is lodged at any stage, we shall either mention the ownership clearly, or remove the picture with suitable regrets.


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