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Healthy Skepticism Library item: 19977

Warning: This library includes all items relevant to health product marketing that we are aware of regardless of quality. Often we do not agree with all or part of the contents.


Publication type: news

Dunlevy S
Australian Big Pharma to derail gravy train Ken Harvey
The Australian 2012 Mar 19

Full text:

THE nation’s biggest drug companies want to end the gravy train for doctors and combat conflict-of-interest concerns by revealing how much they pay them to attend overseas medical conferences.

One firm, Astra Zeneca, even proposes to ban drug companies from paying for doctors to attend conferences altogether as concern grows about the close links between drug firms and medicos who promote and prescribe their products. “We believe that disclosure of these sponsorships has the potential to highlight this area and damage the industry’s reputation and therefore the current practice should cease,” the company says in its submission into a industry review of its code of conduct.

The rise in transparency is opposed by one company, Sanofi, which says full public disclosure could discourage doctors from speaking at conferences, breach commercial confidentiality and privacy laws. Australian Medical Association president Steve Hambleton said the group would not oppose greater disclosure.

“I think it will put the profession in a healthier position,” Dr Hambleton told The Australian.

The push for more transparency follows the introduction of “sunshine laws” in the US this year that require this type of data to be made public in that country.

Four of the world’s biggest drug companies — Pfizer, Eli Lilly, GlaxcoSmithKline and Astra Zeneca — have told the review they want the code of conduct changed to require companies to disclose how much they pay individual doctors from 2014.

“Our industry must respond to the changing environment . . . ensuring industry practices are in tune with the expectations of our customers, stakeholders and the wider community,” Astra Zeneca says in its submission.

“Such bodies should require this disclosure to maintain professional standards and to provide transparency around relationships with our industry,” Pfizer says it its submission.

GlaxcoSmithKline last month became the first drug firm in Australia to reveal aggregate payments to doctors, disclosing that it spent over $2.2 million in payments to medicos and healthcare organisations last year. More than $287,000 was spent on travel costs for doctors who attended overseas and local medical conferences.

The company spent another $372,695 on consultancy and speaker fees and payments for work on advisory boards and $1.5m on sponsorships, donations or grants to health-related groups.

Under the Code of Conduct medicine firms must reveal every six months how much they pay to wine and dine doctors at “education events”. In the six months to last September they spent more than $40m on 18,000 functions.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. A former drug firm saleswoman Petra Helesic told The Australian last year individual doctors earned up to $10,000 a year in speakers’ fees and had first-class airfares and five-star hotel bills paid for when they attended overseas medical conferences.

Ms Helesic, who was employed by four major drug firms in the past decade, said she had “never had a key opinion leader come back from an international conference and say I will not back up your drug”.


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