Glaxo to stop paying doctors for promoting its drugs

Glaxo (GlaxoSmithKline) announced that it is to stop paying doctors for promoting its medications.

After a bribery scandal in China in which the company was accused of transferring $489 million to consultancies and travel agencies to bribe doctors, sales in the country fell by 61% during the third quarter of 2013.

The company added that its sales representative will no longer be set individual sales targets. Sales representatives who work directly with doctors and hospitals will be assessed and rewarded according to their technical knowledge, the quality of service they provide to support and improve patient care, “and the overall performance of GSK’s (GlaxoSmithKline’s) business.”

The new compensation scheme for sales personnel globally will be in place by early 2015. Glaxo sales personnel in many parts of the world have been working under this new system since 2011.

Alternative approaches to continue providing appropriate information about its products and to support medical education for doctors will be found, the company added. Currently, Glaxo pays doctors to give speeches about its drugs.

Glaxo says the measure is not linked to the Chinese scandal

Glaxo emphasized that this latest measure is not in response to the ongoing Chinese investigation, but rather part of a global effort to promote transparency.

Sir Andrew Witty, CEO of GSK said:

“We believe that it is imperative that we continue to actively challenge our business model at every level to ensure we are responding to the needs of patients and meeting the wider expectations of society. Over the past five years, this has seen us take significant steps to increase access to medicines in developing countries and to be more transparent with our clinical trial data.”

“We’ve also made changes to how we work with healthcare professionals. Building on this, today we are outlining a further set of measures to modernize our relationship with healthcare professionals. These are designed to bring greater clarity and confidence that whenever we talk to a doctor, nurse or other prescriber, it is patients’ interests that always come first.”

“We recognize that we have an important role to play in providing doctors with information about our medicines, but this must be done clearly, transparently and without any perception of conflict of interest.”

GSK says it will also stop paying healthcare professionals directly to attend medical conferences. A new system of funding education for doctors through unsolicited, independent educational grant routes will be set up.

Glaxo and research funding

Glaxo says appropriate fees for healthcare professional services in clinical research, market research and advisory activity which it sponsors will continue.

In a communiqué, Glaxo wrote:

“These activities are essential in providing GSK with insights on specific diseases; identification of symptoms and diagnosis; application of clinical trial data or medication dosage and administration; and how to effectively and appropriately communicate the benefits and risks of its medicines to help meet patient needs.”

The BBC quoted head of science and ethics at the British Medical Association, Dr Vivienne Nathanson, who said: “It is pleasing to see a large pharmaceutical company like GlaxoSmithKline recognise that it can reduce the possibility of undue influence by rewarding employees for providing high-quality information and education for doctors, rather than for their sales figures.”

Several pharmaceutical giants investigated in China

In August 2013, French drugs giant, Sanofi, was accused by a local newspaper in China of paying bribes at 79 hospitals to 503 doctors. Chinese authorities started an investigation.

Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical multinational AstraZeneca said Chinese regulators had questioned its employees.

Danish company Novo Nordisk said officials entered its factory in Tianjin City and carried out several interrogations. However, there were no subsequent accusations.

Alcon, the eye-care unit of Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis, was accused in September of paying bribes in 200 hospitals. A month earlier the company had been accused of bribing doctors.

The American multinational, Eli Lilly was accused by a Chinese local newspaper of paying bribes worth $4.9 million. In the majority these cases, initial reports came from the Guangzhou-based 21st Century Business Herald. It always quotes ex-employees who wish to remain anonymous.