GSK and Novartis admit misleading arthritis marketing

Global health giants GlaxoSmithKline and Novartis have admitted in the Federal Court to misleading claims in its marketing of arthritis gels.

The court action, bought by the ACCC in December 2017, alleged the two drug companies made “false or misleading representations” in the marketing of its Voltaren Osteo Gel and Voltaren Emulgel pain relief products.

Last year, GSK won a similar dispute with rival drugmaker Reckitt Benckiser over claims about the effectiveness of Nurofen compared to Panadol while in 2016, Reckitt Benckiser were fined $6m by the Federal Court over their marketing of Nurofen.

Following the 2016 ruling, pharma companies began reviewing their marketing of products and in March 2017 GSK amended the Osteo Gel packaging to include the words “Same effective formula as Voltaren Emulgel”.

The Court found that while clearer wording would have been preferable, these additional words and other changes made to the packaging meant the misleading representations were not being made after that date.

However the court did find the companies had breached consumer law during the earlier period and will determine penalties at a later hearing.

A GSK spokesperson said: “We are pleased with the court’s decision in relation to the revised Voltaren Osteo Gel 1% packaging that we supplied to the Australian market from March 2017 until the end of May 2018.

“We take consumer law seriously. Last year, we admitted allegations in relation to certain historical packaging [that was supplied to the Australian market before March 2017] and some historical website content related to Voltaren Osteo Gel 1%.

“It is important to clarify that certain actions taken by the ACCC in the recent years provided greater clarity around the expectations of companies marketing medicinal products. We responded to this clarification proactively when concerns were raised and made changes to Voltaren Osteo Gel 1% packaging to help ensure we continued to meet the expectations of regulators and consumers.”

Novartis told Mumbrella: “Novartis did not defend the ACCC case, and has always accepted the ACCC’s concerns relating to the marketing of Voltaren products under the old packaging.

We would direct any further questions to GSK Consumer Health, who have been responsible for marketing and selling Voltaren products since 2015.”

In the case, the ACCC alleged Novartis and GSK encouraged consumers to buy its Osteo Gel product, instead of the identical Emulgel which retails for 25% less.

Both GSK and Novartis admitted to the court their claims from January 2012 to March 2017 marketed Osteo Gel as being specifically formulated and more effective than Emulgel in treating osteoarthritis related pain and inflammation.

ACCC commissioner Sarah Court said: ““This case serves as a warning to all businesses that misleading consumers into thinking that products are specifically formulated to treat or target certain conditions when this is not the case can lead to serious consequences.

“Novartis and GSK’s conduct continued after the ACCC’s successful action against the makers of Nurofen for similar conduct involving its pain relief products. In this case both gels are identical and are equally effective in treating osteoarthritis symptoms and a range of other pain conditions.”


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