It is called an industry first. GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has vowed to stop compensating medical doctors in order to have them promote the company’s drugs. The British drug maker announced this month it will also stop paying healthcare professionals who attend their medical conferences saving the company about $82 million a year.
Also to go by the wayside are marketing targets for prescription drugs.
This is the next step for an industry where more and more criticism is being leveled at drug makers for paying doctors to educate other medical professionals, to serve as preceptors, to add their name to an article written by the drug company to promote its product, in other words to do anything to sell their drugs. Other drug companies could follow the lead of GSK.
GSK was called on the carpet by China recently where aggressive promotion of drugs is not considered business as usual. China launched a bribery investigation into GSK’s practice of funneling up to $3 billion to travel agencies to boost drug sales. GSK was also fined $3 billion in the U.S. over improper sales techniques such as misleading information on drug labels and for offering lavish incentives to doctors to sell antidepressants off-label for use in children.
In that investigation, government prosecutors accused GSK of funding lavish vacations to Hawaii, concert and basketball tickets, spa treatments, and golf lessons to doctors who were sold on using the antidepressant, Paxil on children. Paxil has been linked to suicides in children and adolescents and it was finally banned for children in 2008.
From April 2009 to December 2012, ProPublica, an independent nonprofit newsroom, found GSK had paid $238.6 million as part of its drug promotion via doctors. The group compiled a database of $2.1 billion worth of payouts by Big Pharma to doctors and institutions. It is broken down by state as well as company in its project called Dollars for Docs which launched in 2010.
GSK makes drugs such as Wellbutrin, Lamictal, Avodart, Flovent and Advair, among others.
GSK says it will now put patients above profits. But they aren’t rushing into this policy chance – it will not be fully implemented until 2016. Doctors can still be compensated to conduct company-sponsored clinical and market research.