GSK to stop funding doctors attending conferences: agencies react

GlaxoSmithKline is to stop paying doctors to promote its drugs and will cut the link between pay for its sales representatives and the number of prescriptions physicians write.

The British drug maker announced plans to change these long held practices and said it would also stop sponsoring healthcare professionals to attend conferences by the start of 2016, although it would continue to fund education for doctors – a key way of marketing drugs. This would now be done through independent grants.

Individual sales targets for GSK staff are to be scrapped, with new performance measures introduced, such as improved patient care.

In 2012, pharmaceutical companies in the UK paid doctors and healthcare professionals £40m for consultancy, clinical advice, speaking and sponsoring them to attend conferences. GSK’s policy change goes further than AstraZeneca’s move in 2011 to halt payments for doctors to attend international congresses.

GSK is among a list of drug companies in the United States that have received heavy fines for improper sales tactics, as they came under close scrutiny due to the Sunshine Act legislation which came into force recently.

“We recognise 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,” said Andrew Witty, Chief Executive of GSK.

Compliant Venues Mark Handforth, former Head of Events at Roche, said of the move by GSK: “This announcement shows tangibly that commercial companies are trying to find solutions to the evolution of their interactions with healthcare professionals. We must remember that developing an effective drug costs circa US$800m up to the launch phase. So organisations have to be commercially viable to ensure that, as patients, we continue to have improved outcomes through the development of effective drugs.”

Sharon Poole at the Athena agency said: “The danger here is that the high quality of good scientific information being cascaded down by healthcare companies might be effected. Healthcare professionals value unbiased transparent data from industry and this has to be blended into the models for scientific interchange moving forward or patients might suffer.”
Richard Parker, Director of Healthcare strategy at Zibrant, told CN the move was “consistent with other healthcare companies who continue to evaluate their healthcare professional engagement strategies”.
“Inevitably it throws a spotlight on healthcare meetings, in this instance congress,” Parker added. “While others are commenting on margins and traditional models being under threat, for me there are two stand out points.
“First, patient needs continue to rise to the top of the agenda, which is encouraging.
“Second, and consistent with the findings of this year’s Healthcare Meetings Forum, this is about evolution. Significant developments or changes such as those reported by GSK drive everyone in the supply chain to assess their value propositions.
“From the discussions we have with existing and prospective clients product promotion and education continue to be priorities and existing channels such as international congress complemented by new marketing channels remain critical to success.
“Again, drawing on evidence from the Healthcare Meetings Forum and ongoing discussions we at Zibrant are having with physicians and other healthcare experts, attendance at congress remains a priority; in some cases it acts as the single most important peer to peer networking opportunity, whilst concurrently improving education and understanding.
“So for me, the GSK announcement helps accelerate the evolution of healthcare meetings, bringing opportunity for innovation in the meetings sector, driving improved value for medical association members and ultimately improved outcomes for patients. Something better to embrace than be intimidated by.”

More agency reaction to the news from GSK came from Alastair Cotton, Director of Gemini International: “For an agency working in the healthcare sector, the news from GSK is not altogether unexpected. It simply illustrates the ongoing evolution in the interactions between pharma companies and healthcare professionals.”

The news, he said, did underline the fact that event managers had to adapt to a new model of working, reflecting the greater focus on education, not on promotion.

“This evolution has been developing for some time but GSK’s announcement now provides an added impetus as other companies are likely to follow their lead,” Cotton said.
Cotton added that there may be more opportunities for agencies to work with those who are applying for educational grants for events, although he pointed out that, “on the other hand, if working within a fixed-sum educational grant, cost control will be more important than ever to ensure that events remain commercially viable for agencies”.
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Paul Colston


Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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