Drug Company Freebies Target of Voluntary GuidelinesJan 6, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP
Effective the first of this year, some drug manufacturers have stopped producing and distributing all those free marketing giveaways to doctors for which they are famous, and for which they have long been criticized. The drug company logo-emblazoned giveaways—pens, key chains, ceramic mugs, and other such knickknacks—have been making headlines recently because they are just another example of how Big Pharma and medicine mix.
DiscoverMagazine.com reports that some critics say the industry group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America’s (PhRMA) voluntary guidelines—Code on Interactions with Healthcare Professionals—do not address the overarching issue of doctor-industry conflict of interest, what with doctors accepting payments, trips, event tickets, and funding—to name a few—from the drug industry. According to TheLasVegasGun.com, the knickknacks alone cost Big Pharma billions each year.
KaiserNetwork.org, which says PhRMA will create a company directory of firms in compliance with the guidelines, notes that the ban includes office supplies, clothing products, and other such gifts containing drug maker logos and product names targeted to doctors and facilities as well as payments for those big meals doctors are famous for receiving; grant money meant for continuing medical education must now be handled by staff not connected to sales and marketing. But, the guidelines do not cover all conflict-of-interest events. There is no maximum limit on how much money doctors can receive from industry for speaking engagements, although consulting fees—which also contain no caps—must be recorded, reported Kaiser.
The Boston Herald notes that the guidelines do not permit guests, even paying guests, from attending medical conferences and sales reps and other pharmaceutical employees are not allowed to give away items bearing logos. Also, when a drug maker foots the bill for a meal, it must be “modest” said the Boston Herald. But, industry-produced literature, charts, graphs, and other medical-related items are still permitted in locations frequented by patients in doctor offices, notes DelawareOnline.com.
In 2004, the last year for which such data is available, big pharma spend over $57 billion on marketing—typically for physician outreach, said SignOnSanDiego.com—which noted that based on a report in the journal PLoS Medicine, that money was almost twice as much as what was spent on new treatment research and development.
As we've reported previously, the financial ties between doctors, medical researchers and the drug industry go much further than just trinkets and meals. In fact, some highly regarded doctors and researchers have faced a great deal of criticism because of their financial arrangements with pharmaceutical companies.
As we reported yesterday, Dr. Joseph Biederman is the latest doctor whose activities with Big Pharma are under review. According to the Boston Globe, Biederman, a well-known child psychiatrist who has advocated the use of antipsychotics to treat bipolar disorder in children, is suspending his financial relationships with pharmaceutical companies until such time that an agreement with Massachusetts General Hospital—Biederman’s employer—can be reached.
Also, Fierce Healthcare noted that Emory University stripped the chairmanship from one of its more prominent psychiatric researchers—Charles Nemeroff—when an investigation revealed he had not reported significant amounts of industry-sourced income.
Finally, David Sinclair, a professor at Harvard Medical School who sat on the scientific advisory board of supplement maker Shaklee Corporation, helped promote a product claiming to possess life-extending properties, has stepped down, but remains as co-chief adviser to Sirtris Pharmaceuticals, a Glaxo division. Sinclair received over $8 million when Glaxo acquired Sirtris; the company pays him $297,000 annually as a consultant, said the Wall Street Journal.