How to become an ABPI final signatory

How do I become an ABPI Code final signatory?

As an award-winning training company, we’ve trained and supported thousands of people get to grips and practically unpick the ABPI Code of Practice. We support all levels – those who are new to the Code in pharmaceutical companies or supporting agencies all the way through to expert final signatories.

We are frequently asked how do I become an ABPI Code of Practice final signatory?  Here are our thoughts and tips for taking this next step.

What do final signatories do?

An ABPI final signatory is a highly responsible role in the industry.  The signatory works with a team to sign off virtually all materials and activities making sure they comply with the laws relevant to advertising, alignment with the marketing authorisation and that the information about a medicine is a fair and truthful presentation of the facts.  Mistakes can result in breaches of the Code, fines, company audits and can bring the pharmaceutical company and wider industry into disrepute.

Are final signatories only in the pharmaceutical industry?

The vast majority of final signatories are within pharmaceutical companies or in expert compliance review agencies supporting the industry.  You’ll also find some highly skilled consultants who trained in industry and run their own outsourced final signatory companies.

To become a signatory is it enough to just read the Code?

No.  The ABPI Code of Practice sets out the do’s and don’ts.  This is a key document, but the Code book is just the start.  There are typically around 150 alleged breaches of the Code every year and extra supporting guidance documents that shape what companies can and can’t do.  Code compliance is like law, with new cases setting precedence all the time. That’s why we provide monthly Code case update webinars to help companies stay on top of the cases.  Plus, companies have their own policies and procedures that they need to follow.  A final signatory needs to be knowledgeable in all these areas with sound practical application of the Code too.

Think of it like this.  Reading a cookery book doesn’t make you a Michelin star chef (if only!).  Reading the Code does not make you a final signatory.  You’ll need a huge amount of practical application and experience of the Code with access to real industry examples to be able to interpret the Code.

What qualifications do you need?

To become a UK final signatory, you need to either be a registered medical practitioner or a pharmacist registered in the UK.  If a company has a dental product, you could be a UK registered dentist. Vets and PhD qualifications alone are not eligible. There are, of course, other ways you can get involved in compliance if you don’t have the required qualifications, but not as a final signatory.

What skills do you need?

The Code needs final signatories to have great product knowledge, relevant experience both within and outside the industry, length of service and seniority.  Plus, an up to date and detailed knowledge of the Code.  If this is your first industry job, don’t expect to walk into a final signatory post.  It takes time to reach the required level.

Not every scenario is covered in the Code and so signatories must be adept decision makers balancing the Code and commercial aims of the company.

A great signatory should have a can do attitude – thinking about the desired outcome and suggesting compliant options, if any are possible, which align with strategy.  You’ll need to make tough decisions at times.

How long will it take to become a signatory?

Don’t expect it to happen overnight, in a week or a month.  It will vary from person to person, your experience and how much hands on reviewing of real materials you do.  Plan on 6-12 months as a minimum but some people can take up to 2 years. There is a lot to learn, you’ll need to immerse yourself in materials and real-life examples and ideally you’ll have a coach who can help you make the right decisions and see the subtle nuances of the Code and cases.

Often people will progress through different roles in the industry first and then take on final signatory training.

Is there an exam I can take?

There is no national final signatory exam.  There is a Sales representative ABPI exam and so don’t get confused with this qualification.  Each pharmaceutical company will decide the level they think is appropriate and will assess the aspiring signatory against their own standards.  Most pharmaceutical companies have designed their own internal exam which could include multiple choice questions and case examples for discussion.  Each pharmaceutical company decides when you are ready and will then register you with the PMCPA and the MHRA.

How can you start moving to become a final signatory?

Start to get to grips with the Code.  Sign up for our regular newsletter with tips and follow us on LinkedIn.

If you’re in a pharmaceutical company, talk to other final signatories to understand the role and understand the career pathway in your company.  We run a wide range of training courses, including an advanced and an expert final signatory training course.  Having a job in industry is ideal as you can then find a company mentor and start being exposed to real materials and activities, putting the Code into practice, straight away.

If you’re looking to join the industry find out as much as you can about the final signatory role and think about strengthening your CV.  Look at job adverts and check you have the right skills.  And, of course, get some solid Code training so you know what you’re talking about and can wow at interview.  Expect to invest in your future career.  We run a wide range of training courses, from introduction through to expert final signatory.  The introduction and advanced courses can be self-directed eLearning courses, making them ideal to fit around your other commitments.  They are interactive and packed full examples and scenarios.  There are also plenty of course reviews on our eLearning website if you want to read what people think!

If you’re outside the pharmaceutical industry without access to real materials to review we don’t suggest you take the expert course. Take a lower level course such as the advanced eLearning course and then take the expert course when you have a job in industry.

We wish you much success in your new role.  If you want to know more about our courses, do get in touch.

Written 17 July 2023