GSK axes speaker fees

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GlaxoSmithKline says it is no longer coughing up money to get doctors to talk up their drugs or attend medical conferences. It will, however, continue to fund clinical research, advisory committees and market research.

CEO Sir Andrew Witty described the policy in a statement as part of a move to “ensure we are responding to the needs of patients and meeting the wider expectations of society,” an effort he says has included moves such as making clinical trial data available and increasing access to medicines. Witty said that the company also believes it is “imperative that we continue to actively challenge our business model at every level.”

The drugmaker also announced on Tuesday that it was eliminating compensation based on sales targets for its sales force, a global extension of the “Patient First” initiative it rolled out in the US two years ago. Instead, all sales reps will be compensated based on their technical knowledge, the quality of their customer support and the company's overall company performance.

Harvard Medical School's Jerry Avorn, who has criticized industry marketing practices, told the New York Times that the company's announcement shows that GSK understands “learning from a doctor who is paid by a drug company to give a talk about its products isn't the best way to learn about those products.”

Others, such as ProPublica, say that Tuesday's announcement is not really much of a break and points to financial records that show GSK has been dialing back its speaker support for some time. Among the investigative news site's numbers: GSK dropped $13.2 million on physician speaking fees per quarter in 2010, compared to $6 million per quarter in 2011 and $2.5 million per quarter for the first three quarters of 2012. ProPublica also notes that this drop is in line with an overall decline in marketing spend, a correlation confirmed by a spokesperson who told ProPublica that because new drug promotions have been low, “spending for speakers programs have been lower, too.”

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