The Market Research Society makes no reference to the testing of medicines in its Code of Conduct. Butterworth's Law of Food and Drugs details the requirements for clinical trials of the efficacy of products, but does not provide any definition of requirements for the testing of other aspects of pharmaceutical products such as flavour acceptability. Indeed, there are no real guidelines for taste testing pharmaceuticals. The responsibility for designing safe consumer research resides with the agency doing the work. Moreover, providing an agency takes sufficient steps to ensure the safety of the research protocol, responsibility for the safety of the actual product and product ingredients lies with the manufacturer.
Increasingly, over-the-counter medicines are becoming more important to pharmaceutical firms. Manufacturers can increase sales and market share by improving the appeal of their products to consumers. There is an increase in research activities into the reformulation of products to achieve better taste characteristics and subsequent testing with consumers to investigate preference or prove claims made about taste. Nevertheless, this type of research produces ethical concerns since many of the products tested contain active drugs. However, the issues involved in showing that one product is preferred to another in terms of taste are completely different from clinical trial issues.
Reading Scientific Services Ltd (RSSL) is a multidisciplinary scientific consultancy providing research and analytical services to the food, drink, consumer goods, chemical and healthcare industries. It has expertise in both routine and investigative pharmaceutical analysis including sensory evaluation and consumer research. When conducting consumer research on pharmaceutical products the dose each respondent receives has to be limited. In practice this means controlling
Researchers' obligations to clients the amount and number of products tasted. Pre-screening of product prototypes is essential in order to ensure the selection of the best samples to research with consumers. Sensory evaluation, making use of trained panels, is an efficient way of pre-screening. Panellists are selected for their taste sensitivity and are trained to describe and measure flavour and mouthfeel characteristics. Results of the sensory evaluation are used to make sure that only prototypes that seem to have the required range of flavour and mouthfeel characteristics are taken forward to the stage of consumer research. Moreover, because sensory evaluation gives an objective and precise description of the flavour and mouthfeel characteristics of each product, the task of consumer research is simplified to preference judgements and opinions about key product characteristics. At the same time the dose administered can be kept to a minimum.
Nonetheless, consumers must give their 'informed consent' to take part in such research and interviewers must explicitly inform respondents of any restrictions or exclusions. Respondents must also read and sign a consent form which states the restrictions and tells consumers of the nature of the research. If appropriate, a GP supervises the tasting sessions.
Ethics is also involved in the type of marketing research carried out and/or whether it is carried out in an ethically correct manner. When the research involves the testing of products that might have potentially dangerous side effects on consumers, considerable care has to be taken to ensure that procedures adopted are ethically acceptable and that they are not open to criticism.
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