Glaxo Resumes Payments to Doctors That Were Halted After U.S. Probe

(Bloomberg) -- GlaxoSmithKline Plc will resume paying doctors to promote its medicines and attend medical meetings, reversing a policy introduced five years ago after a U.S. probe of its marketing and sales practices.

Glaxo’s approach in recent years has limited understanding of its products and ultimately restricted patients’ access to new drugs and vaccines, and hasn’t been followed by pharma rivals, the London-based company said Tuesday in a statement on its website. The policy applies only to certain products and markets, the company said.

The U.K.’s biggest drugmaker said it will now allow payments to global experts who speak about the science behind its treatments and, outside the U.S., cover travel costs for doctors to attend meetings set up by the company. The total payments will be significantly lower than they were before the current policy was announced, Glaxo said.

The move is a change in direction for Glaxo. The company under then-Chief Executive Officer Andrew Witty said in 2013 that it would stop paying doctors to speak on its behalf by early 2016 after the U.S. investigation. Witty in 2012 vowed to clean up Glaxo after it paid $3 billion in a U.S. settlement to resolve allegations it improperly promoted drugs and failed to report safety data.

Competitive Push

Pharmaceutical industry payments to health-care professionals, and the lack of disclosure about those financial ties in some countries, have drawn criticism. About 128 million pounds ($166 million) flowed from drugmakers to U.K. medical professionals or organizations in consulting fees, travel expenses, donations and other items in 2017, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry said earlier this year.

“We don’t let judges or journalists take money from the people they are judging or reporting on,” Fiona Godlee, the London-based editor in chief of the BMJ medical journal, wrote in an email. “We shouldn’t let doctors do this either. Paid opinion leaders are a blot on medicine’s integrity and we should make them a thing of the past.”

Still, the changes at Glaxo suggest that “when payments are made, there are lots of caveats and controls which were not present before,” said Sudip Hazra, head of sustainability research and responsible investment at Kepler Cheuvreux in Paris. “Provided it’s implemented correctly, it has the potential to be a very sound policy.”

Expanded Reporting

The policy will apply for two years after a product is approved and for one year following significant new data, Glaxo said. It will cover some products in the U.S. and Japan starting this month, and potentially in other markets in Europe, North America and Asia in 2019. The company also will pay registration fees for doctors to attend remote webinars or webcasts, though it still won’t sponsor them to attend conferences, Glaxo said.

“Our ability to provide or clarify new data to health-care professionals is a crucial part of introducing new ideas that have the potential to improve patient health,” Glaxo said.

Glaxo said it will also expand its reporting of payments to individual physicians to increase transparency. Starting next year, the company will disclose those details annually in the U.S., Japan and other significant markets where it’s legally permitted, it said.

Glaxo’s new CEO, Emma Walmsley, is pushing to make the pharma division more competitive, rejuvenate its pipeline and deliver more blockbusters. The company said last month that it would eliminate about 650 jobs in the U.S. and put the savings into drug research.

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