Judge cites Cochrane to take down Nurofen's claim to superiority
Advertising claims that Nurofen is better than Panadol for headaches have been struck down by a judge who accepted expert advice that Cochrane reviews take priority over results from individual studies.
In a two-year legal case brought by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) against Reckitt Benckiser, a judge had to consider what level of scientific evidence was necessary to justify analgesic claims on TV and in print ads in Women’s Health magazine.
The ads claimed Nurofen was superior to Panadol for treating tension-type headaches. They were based on a 1996 study that found better headache relief from ibuprofen 400mg than paracetamol 1000mg.
Lawyers for GSK argued the results were never replicated and therefore the ads were misleading.
Reckitt Benckiser’s lawyers responded that no subsequent study has specifically disproved the 1996 findings.
Expert witnesses told the Federal Court that meta-analyses and systematic reviews, including Cochrane reviews, should be considered the gold standard for judging the efficacy of drugs.
Cochrane reviews from 2015 and 2016 acknowledged the 1996 study as rigorously conducted, but concluded that no claim of superiority could justifiably be made by ibuprofen over paracetamol based on the overall state of scientific knowledge.
The judge agreed, ruling the ads were likely to mislead patients and were therefore in breach of consumer law.
He granted an injunction against the ads and ordered Reckitt Benckiser to pay GSK’s legal costs.
The court case also provided a window into industry marketing tactics for the $580 million over-the-counter analgesics market.
The companies’ legal submissions cited market research reports showing that patients were more likely to buy analgesics they perceived as fast-acting and long-lasting.
About half of patients were loyal to one OTC analgesic whereas others were deemed “repertoire shoppers”, buying both ibuprofen and paracetamol products for different reasons or family members.