Drugmakers' Payments to U.K. Health Groups, Doctors Rise 25%

(Bloomberg) -- Drugmakers in the U.K. led by AstraZeneca Plc increased payments to local health-care organizations, doctors and other workers by 25 percent last year,with most of that money going toward research and development, voluntary disclosures by the recipients showed.

The spending climbed to 455 million pounds ($590 million) last year, according to a report on Friday from the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, which collects the data. Cambridge-based AstraZeneca had the highest expenditure, at 56 million pounds, said Karen Borrer, head of reputation at the lobbying group.

Almost two-thirds of health-care workers consented to sharing details of payments and benefits, up from about 55 percent a year earlier, the data showed, though the voluntary nature of the program allows some of the highest-paid people and groups to remain anonymous. The rising number of disclosures may not be enough to ease calls for mandating more transparency in an industry that has been under pressure globally for high drug prices and questionable sales practices.

“We can and we should be achieving greater transparency,” ABPI’s Chief Executive Officer Mike Thompson said in the statement. He pledged his group’s commitment to achieving a 100 percent consent rate from the people and organizations receiving the funds.

In the U.S., the Physician Payments Sunshine Act was signed into law in 2010 as part of the Affordable Care Act, to force a comprehensive disclosure of companies’ financial ties to the medical professionals that prescribe and use their products.

About three quarters of the money in the U.K. last year went toward R&D, including clinical trials, with the rest of the spending on consulting fees, donations, travel, sponsorship agreements and other items, the industry group said. 

“Industry needs to work with these health-care professionals in order to move things forward and bring through new medicines,” Borrer said. “If we are going to engage with these absolute experts in the field, it is only reasonable, particularly if they’re doing this work in their own time, that they are remunerated,” as long as it’s within strict rules.

At AstraZeneca, 90 percent of the disclosed payments related to R&D last year, reflecting its “commitment to investing in scientific research in the U.K,” a spokeswoman said in an emailed response to questions.

The disclosures come as the National Health Service and the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges encourage workers to provide the payment details.