Top 5 takeaways from international hybrid and virtual meeting guidance for pharma


The move to online international meetings has left pharma companies with uncertainty around contact compliance. But new joint guidance, from the IFPMA, EFPIA, and PhRMA, provides clarity.

To say the world of work has changed is something of an understatement in the pharma and biopharma industry. Since COVID-19 reared its head more than two years ago, the traditional hustle and bustle of in-person annual congresses have largely been consigned to the history books.

When events moved online, societies and associations recognised the wider access afforded by “virtual”, and now, as the world slowly gets back on track, many have opted for a hybrid model that offers the best of both.

This rapid shift has left the pharma and biopharma industry uncertain on compliance – while regulations tightly cover face-to-face contact during meetings, they were not designed for the digital-first era, leaving room for error when planning conference activities.

But the new Joint Guidance on Virtual and Hybrid International Medical Congresses, from the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA), the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA), and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) is here to plug that gap.

Published at the end of April, it applies to all virtual and hybrid international congresses organised by medical associations or societies that involve healthcare professionals (HCPs) from multiple countries and covers activities, such as exhibition stands and satellite symposia.

“Where it is impossible to restrict access to HCPs, due to the congress platform or equivalent, there must be a clear statement to the attendee that the materials/communication are designed and intended for HCPs only.”

Here, we take a look at the top five takeaways from the document:

1. The codes still apply

Despite this update, activities such as funding medical education, providing sponsorship to medical society-led events, hiring exhibition space, and supporting speakers are still covered by Article 7 of the IFPMA Code, Article 10 of the EFPIA Code, and Articles 4, 5, and 7 of the PhRMA Code.

“(They)require that support and attendance be based on the event’s educational value, considering the educational program, overall cost, nature of the audience, cybersecurity, and privacy arrangements, with attention paid to the overall impression given by all the various arrangements.

Companies should still clearly document their reasons for supporting events, including virtual and hybrid international congresses, said the document.

2. End of the host country

The existing IFPMA, EFPIA, and PhRMA codes cover the appropriate communication of promotional and non-promotional information during international congresses.

They state that when the medicine is not approved in the country of the meeting, companies should refer to the regulations of the “host country”. In the context of online international meetings, however, this concept is no longer applicable.

3. Identifying the appropriate code and label

In the case of virtual meetings, companies should adopt the code of the region that most delegates would be expected to come from, based on experience.

“The selection of the relevant industry code should be based on industry practice rather than merely relying on the code referenced by the host (e.g. medical society) of the international congress.

“Promotional material must be accompanied by a statement indicating the countries in which the medicinal product is registered, and by an explanatory statement indicating that registration conditions may differ internationally,” said the document, adding that this statement should be prominently displayed.

This change in the method of appropriate code selection also changes the way visuals are designed.

Explained the guidance: “To avoid confusion it is recommended that virtual international congress website and documents do not use visuals of a specific country or city. Virtual events have no link to a location and hence have no link to a country code.”

However, as hybrid congresses have both in-person and virtual elements, the principles of the in-person location’s country code should apply, it went on.

4. Confirming participant status

Of course, making sure that everyone visiting your stand or attending your symposium is allowed to be there is easy at a conference. The same cannot be said for online events.

As such, the guidance places the onus on companies to ensure a process is in place to confirm participants’ status as HCPs or non-HCP.

They should work with the medical association to ensure that the congress’ virtual platforms allow for categorisation and make “reasonable efforts” to restrict access to promotional material to HCPs, when required by applicable rules and regulations.

“Where the medical association’s platform does not have a categorisation capability, companies should consider alternative mechanisms to enable attendee classification for their promotional section.

“Where it is impossible to restrict access to HCPs, due to the congress platform or equivalent, there must be a clear statement to the attendee that the materials/communication are designed and intended for HCPs only,” said the guidance.

5. Follow the path of most resistance

Companies should always adhere to the requirements established by their country’s applicable laws, regulations, or industry codes of practice, says the document. However, in the event of a conflict between the provisions of the applicable laws, regulations, and codes, “the more restrictive of the conflicting provisions apply”.

About the author

Amanda BarrellAmanda Barrell is a freelance health and medical education journalist, editor and copywriter. She has worked on projects for pharma, charities, and agencies, and has written extensively for patients, HCPs and the public