Wyeth gives $500k for CME block-grant pilot

Wyeth’s $500,000 independent CME grant will enable the Medical Association of Georgia (MAG) to assess a system that delegates control over the firm’s med-ed purse strings. The grant was given to MAG’s Institute for Excellence in Medicine and is to be shared by intra-state accredited providers in five states. Each state will have its own grant award committee and begin distributing monies locally this fall. The grants will focus on CME related to the diagnosis and treatment of depression and anxiety. Wyeth markets Effexor (venlafaxine) for major depressive disorder. “From a compliance perspective, we thought that this would be an interesting pilot in which to participate, because Wyeth is removing itself from individual grant decision-making,” Jennifer Spear Smith, PhD, executive director, Wyeth Professional Education Support, told MM&M in an e-mail. The program represents the first large-scale, pharma-backed test of the block-grants concept, in which administrators independent of the pharmaceutical grantor determine recipients. Typically, education departments within drug firms staffed by multidisciplinary teams decide who gets billions in commercial funding. The test case also comes amid criticism from academics and others that industry-supported CME is influenced by marketing, despite pharma’s Herculean efforts to separate the two. Block grants have been proposed as a way to assure the purity of CME. The MAG pilot is similar to a proposal that appeared in The Journal of the American Medical Association in January that suggested pharma give unrestricted funds to a consortium of academic medical centers, except that the funding in this case is administered by a state medical society and the area of therapeutic focus is predetermined. The five participating states are Colorado, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Florida and Georgia. MAG will divvy up Wyeth’s grant among the state committees, which will farm it out to intra-state providers accredited by state medical societies, including hospitals, state chapters of specialty societies and health organizations within the states. The deadline for completion of funded projects is the end of 2007. “If this works, then we want to take that model and roll it out throughout the US,” said Robert Addleton, EdD, CME director for MAG. “We are interested in seeing the results from the pilot before we decide on further similar grants,” Smith said. One bonus for Wyeth: MAG will evaluate the effectiveness of the education across all the activities and provide the company with a summary. “Currently, for small grant requests to support local programs, we receive very little information on the results of the education,” Smith said. Addleton, who has been working on the project for two years (MM&M, March 2006), said he wants to “reinvigorate local CME” by linking it to outcomes and boosting funding. Since drug firms changed the gatekeeper for grants from the local sales rep to a Web site, local providers such as community hospitals have seen fewer grants. “Local independent [physician] education is extremely important to improving patient care, and the states are more aware of their local needs than we can ever be,” Smith said.