Recap of FDLI #AdPromo2023

Disclosure: I sit on the Planning Committee for the FDLI Ad-Promo conference. This is an unpaid, volunteer position. The contents of this post were not discussed with or influenced by any member of the FDLI staff.

This post provides some of the highlights from FDLI's ad-promo conference. An on-demand version of the conference presentations is available on-demand at:

The Food and Drug Law Institute's (FDLI) Advertising & Promotion for Medical Products conference wrapped up last week. I attended the conference and also moderated a panel on data privacy and concerns about the use of health data for the targeting of advertising.

The first day kicked off with a fireside chat with Arun Rao from the Department of Justice (DOJ), Lauren Roth from the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), and Serena Viswanathan from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), led by Christine Simmon of FDLI.

FDA and FTC both noted their recent guidance updates. For FDA, that means the new Communications From Firms to Health Care Providers Regarding Scientific Information on Unapproved Uses of Approved/Cleared Medical Products Questions and Answers Guidance for Industry (SIUU) and the newly finalized Presenting Quantitative Efficacy and Risk Information in Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) Promotional Labeling and Advertisements

FTC has also been busy, providing updated guidance on endorsements, reviews and testimonials, and a distinct Health Products Compliance Guidance.

DOJ, FDA, and FTC also mentioned the extent to which they are still very much digging out from the backlog created by the pandemic. More than three years after COVID-19 first came to our shores, its effects are very much still being felt.

Rao also mentioned a new policy from DOJ to create a safe harbor for self-reported disclosures made in connection with a merger or acquisition. Under this new policy, companies that learn of wrongdoing at a company they have acquired can be protected from later liability if they report the wrongdoing to DOJ within six months of closing the merger or acquisition. This is as Rao described it a "very big juicy carrot" to encourage self-reporting of wrongdoing, and it also ramps up the need for effective due diligence during the M&A to ensure that all wrongdoing is uncovered and can be reported.

One final point mentioned by Roth is the importance to FDA of combatting misinformation about medical products. Commissioner Califf has repeatedly warned about the need to combat misinformation, and it is not a stretch to see FDA's SIUU guidance as one small step in that direction. By providing further guidance about exactly how sponsors can share truthful, not misleading information about unapproved uses, FDA is enabling efforts to get good information from the people who should be seen as the most reliable source of that information, the product's sponsors.

The next session of the day included an update from OPDP, APLB, CDRH, and CVM related to advertising and promotion.

Katie Gray from OPDP gave a detailed presentation on the Recorlev enforcement action from earlier this year and an overview of the SIUU guidance. Lisa Stockbridge from APLB provided a reminder on reminder advertising, indicating that this well-established category of communication continues to cause firms difficulties. Debra Wolf of CDRH emphasized that although there has not been a significant amount of publicly available enforcement actions from CDRH, the Agency continues to have many private communications with firms about their marketing efforts.

The next plenary session covered scientific exchange and pre-approval communications. Elisabethann Wright of Cooley provided particular insight into the EU's approach, which of course varies widely by country, and has been especially active on platforms such as LinkedIn. Of note is the extremely active role played by the industry's own associations in not merely promulgating guidance and establishing codes of conduct but in regularly enforcing violations of those codes against member companies.

After lunch, the first set of breakout sessions occurred including the panel I moderated on data privacy. I found the discussion very lively and enjoyed hearing from Elisa Jillson from the FTC, Lyra Correa from HHS's Office of Civil Rights, and Nancy Perkins from Arnold & Porter. I have previously opined that the 2020s will be most known for its focus on privacy, and while the cookie-less future we keep hearing about gets pushed back once again, there's growing awareness and concern about how much deeply personal information has been given up and on how companies are using (or misusing) that data.

Simultaneous sessions looked at the recently finalized guidance from the FDA on Presenting Quantitative Efficacy and Risk Information in Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) Promotional Labeling and Advertisements while another session looked more into the promotion of veterinary products. Because I was leading another session, I couldn't attend either, but I'm looking forward to using that link provided earlier to view the recordings. 

The afternoon plenary sessions resumed with a look at FTC's role in enforcement of healthcare advertising and closed out with a session on that perennial chestnut of social media usage.

Day two of the conference kicked off with an enlightening discussion of so-called CFL (Consistent with FDA-Labeling) claims. Torrey Cope of Sidley Austin provided an insightful look not just at FDA's enforcement post-guidance for claims that failed to meet the CFL standard, but also for taking the time to examine the nature and wording around the acceptance by FDA of so-called Real-World Evidence (RWE) in the context of product approvals. RWE is not the sole source of CFL claims, but Cope was able to provide some valuable lessons.

The afternoon's breakout sessions included one on artificial intelligence (which I attended), promotional challenges in rare disease treatments, and navigating accelerated approval promotion.

The closing session focused on other avenues for enforcement, including of course, the Better Business Bureau National Advertising Division's (NAD), as well as general counsel to general counsel complaint letters, filing complaints with the FDA, and perhaps even bringing a Lanham Act case.

The NAD's finding against Novartis earlier this year was of course a hot topic. But it is worth noting that in a more recent case, Viiv simply declined to participate in the NAD process. NAD referred the matter to FDA and FTC noting that decision, but as of the writing of this post, no further action by the government has been seen.

Alan Minsk of Arnall Golden Gregory noted the importance of determining your goal when looking at the appropriate path. If your goal is get a competitor in trouble then you really need to rely on the government or the courts, but if your goal is primarily to just get the company to stop the use of misleading promotion, then NAD or a direct complaint letter might be a far more cost-effective solution.

Overall, the conference was a huge success, though my opinion should be viewed as biased because I sit on the conference planning committee. FDA is definitely digging itself out from the pandemic backlog. I fully expect we'll see more from the Agency, as a very active 2023 has already demonstrated.

New On-Demand Training Platform

I am pleased to announce the availability of on-demand training about FDA's regulation of advertising and promotion. So, you are now able to learn about the wonderful world of FDA ad-promo from the comfort of your home, office, or campsite. 

At, you can see the courses that are currently available and sign up. In the video above, there's a special discount code to celebrate the launch of this new platform.

If you are interested in providing access to the training for your full team, then please email me at or fill out the contact form on the website. I can provide all of the information about the corporate licensing.
Every course comes with access for a full year. You can view, and review, the content as often as you like. In addition, every module on the platform is reviewed in its entirety at least twice per year. If something changes, new modules will replace the old ones, and students will be notified of the update. Those new modules will be available at no additional cost! That way you can rest assured that the information you are learning is always current with the latest developments in the world of ad-promo.

COVID-19 & Ad-Promo

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the fore some issues of ad-promo for FDA-regulated products. I'm posting here to highlight some developments and correct some of the discussion.

Snake Oil & Enforcement

One of the unfortunate things about any new health concern is that the snake oil sales start immediately. There are far too many scumbags who see an opportunity to profit in a crisis. The COVID-19 outbreak is no exception.

These people represent a real danger to the public. People who promote unproven treatments can convince the public that they don't need to take the outbreak seriously, can lead to reckless behavior, and in the extreme can contribute directly to increased deaths as their victims rely on the snake oil instead of trusting healthcare providers.

In this setting, FDA and FTC enforcement is essential. We need vigorous enforcement from the authorities to stop the spread of misinformation. I'm glad to see FTC and FDA have already taken some action in this regard. I hope we'll see more.

Off-Label Promotion & Outbreaks

Researchers, practitioners, and industry are frantically searching for any effective treatments. Currently, the science is unclear about whether any treatment works.

As I write this, there has been a lot of buzz around the possible effectiveness of an anti-malarial treatment, hydroxychloroquine sulfate. This is an already-approved drug being used for an unapproved indication, i.e., this is a classic off-label use of a product.

I have seen some misinformation in the media about off-label uses of products, so I thought it might be helpful to set out the background to all of this.

To bring a new drug to market, a company must submit a New Drug Application (NDA) to the FDA. Among other information, the NDA includes proposed labeling. The proposed labeling provides directions to healthcare providers explaining how to use the drug safely. That labeling sets out the proposed uses of the drug. The uses of the drug are known as the indications. Indications typically include a population, a condition, and the stage/severity of the condition (if applicable).

The FDA evaluates the NDA to determine whether the sponsor has demonstrated that the drug is safe and effective for the proposed indications. Assuming the sponsor meets the evidentiary burden, the FDA approves the proposed indications for the product.

After being approved by the FDA, sponsors may only promote their drugs for the specific indications approved by the Agency. Any other use of the product is "off-label" use.

Off-label use is NOT inherently bad, wrong, or evil; and off-label use of a drug is also not prohibited. The other evening I heard a television news segment where the expert commentator spoke of using drugs in violation of FDA's rules. That's wrong.

FDA does not regulate the practice of medicine, and physicians are, for the most part, able to prescribe drugs as they believe is appropriate to treat the patients they see.

But the sponsors are not permitted to promote their drugs for any uses other than those approved by the FDA. Importantly, there is no explicit prohibition in law against the promotion of unapproved uses. You won't, for example, find off-label promotion listed as one of the items that causes a drug to be misbranded. Instead, there are multiple legal theories about this prohibition and what exactly makes such promotion illegal, including the failure to include adequate directions for use in the labeling.

If a company learns of a new off-label use for a drug and wants to promote the drug for that use, the sponsor must conduct additional clinical trials to demonstrate that the drug is also safe and effective for that new use. After completing the clinical trials, the sponsor submits an sNDA (supplemental New Drug Application) to the Agency.

Assuming the Agency approves the sNDA, the label is updated to include the new indication, clinical trial data, additional instructions for use, etc., and the company is then able to promote the new use of the drug.

So, FDA doesn't have to DO anything to make the possible off-label treatments available, despite several prominent people calling on FDA to take action. The drug being suggested for off-label use is already on the market and can be used for this off-label use.

Why doesn't FDA simply approve the new use?

Because FDA doesn't know if the drug works.

When FDA evaluates an NDA or sNDA it weighs the risks and benefits of the drug for each specific proposed use. As FDA has repeatedly made clear, each specific proposed use requires a separate risk-benefit determination.

It is possible (even likely) that a drug that has been proven to be safe and effective for one use might not be either safe or effective for another use.

Indeed, one frequent criticism of off-label use of drugs is that there simply isn't sufficient evidence of effectiveness for many off-label uses.

And that in turns leads directly to why FDA's prohibition on off-label promotion is so important to protect the public health. Using treatments without evidence and promoting such treatments can make things worse.

FDA has the tools to act rapidly to approve new uses of a drug, but it is unwise to short-circuit the approval process, and it's irresponsible to hype an off-label use without sufficient evidence to demonstrate its efficacy.

COVID-19 Outbreak Pausing Live Speaking Engagements

I live in Pennsylvania, just outside Philadelphia, in Montgomery County. Currently, Montco is the worst hit county in Pennsylvania for the COVID-19 outbreak. Consequently, the governor ordered all non-essential businesses to close more than a week ago in Montco, and yesterday expanded that order statewide.

Because most of my work is from home, the outbreak has not yet affected my ability to provide client service; however, for the foreseeable future all live speaking engagements are cancelled.

I was scheduled to deliver the device workshop at DIA advertising conference last week and also had some workshops scheduled with FDAnews for May and June. DIA's conference was been delayed with a decision about how to proceed still to be determined. I'll post an update here when I know more.

The May FDAnews workshop has been cancelled, and the June workshop is on hold. When I know more, I'll post an update.

In addition, I am part of the leadership committee for the Philadelphia RAPS chapter. We held our last event on March 5 at Temple University, and the next day, RAPS HQ sent out a notice asking chapters to hold off on live meetings for March and April. Currently, the chapter leadership is discussing other options, such as webinars to continue getting information to our membership during the outbreak.

While we adjust to life during a pandemic, I'll provide updates as I can. Stay safe and wash your hands!

2020 CDER Guidance Agenda Released

UPDATE: The guidance mentioned below was released. Here's the link.

The FDA has released the CDER Guidance Agenda. For ad-promo professionals, the most most significant item is the inclusion of an item labeled:

  • Promotional Labeling and Advertising Considerations for Prescription Biological Reference and Biosimilar Products--Questions and Answers 
Also notable is that no other advertising or promotional guidances are listed. The draft guidance on presenting risk information turned 10 years old last year. It seemed ripe for an update and perhaps even finalization. That seemed even more likely in the context of OPDP's study of the so-called one-click rule. That study was first announced in 2017. There's no update on the FDA website about the study, but I expected it to be completed last year.

FDA's social science research has clearly been influencing recent guidances, so I assumed (and continue to assume) that FDA would want to update the risk presentation guidance in light of its most recent research about presenting risks, including the one-click study. Apparently, we'll have to keep waiting.

BTW, for those interested in the topic of biosimilar promotion, the Drug Information Association's Advertising & Promotion Regulatory Affairs Conference will have a session covering this topic. Full disclosure: I sit on the programming committee for the conference and will be leading the medical device primer the day before the full conference kicks off. 

Temple RA/QA Advertising Course

It was just confirmed that I'll be teaching in Temple University's RA/QA MS program this spring. Specifically, I'll be teaching the ad-promo course.

If you or anyone you know is interested, please reach out to me for information. The course will be taught out of the Fort Washington campus, but online enrollment is permitted.

Here's the complete schedule of classes for the spring.

DHC Privacy Post

The Digital Health Coalition asked for my views on the renewed emphasis on privacy for pharmaceutical marketers. I shared a few thoughts here.