[Ip-health] Piercing the Veil, More Drug Companies Reveal Payments to Doctors

Pranesh Prakash pranesh at cis-india.org
Fri Sep 9 19:57:07 PDT 2011

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Dear all,
I don't think this has been posted yet.  If you can't view the table
below correctly (i.e., your mail client doesn't display this message
using a monospace font), do visit the ProPublica website:


Journalism in the public interest.

Dollars for Doctors
[How Industry Money Reaches Physicians][1]

= Piercing the Veil, More Drug Companies Reveal Payments to Doctors =
by Charles Ornstein, Tracy Weber and Dan Nguyen
ProPublica, Sep. 7, 2011, 5:31 p.m.

Eight pharmaceutical companies, including the nation?s three largest,
doled out more than $220 million last year to promotional speakers for
their products, according to a ProPublica analysis of company data.

For the first time, all these companies have reported a full year of
payments, allowing for head-to-head comparisons of how much they spent
on physicians to help push their pills. Some appear to be paring back.

Firms with the highest U.S. sales last year didn?t spend the most on
physician marketers. Industry leader Pfizer, with sales of $26.2
billion, spent $34.4 million on speakers, ranking third among the eight
companies. By comparison, Eli Lilly and Co. spent the most on speakers,
$61.5 million, even though its sales were about half of Pfizer?s.

?We continue to believe in the benefits and value that educational
programs led by physicians provide to patient care,? Lilly spokesman J.
Scott MacGregor said in an email.

The data provide a preview of [what the public can expect to see in
2013][], when all drug and medical-device companies ? potentially
hundreds ? must report such figures to the federal government.

Until 2009, pharmaceutical company payments to health professionals were
closely held trade secrets. But several companies began reporting the
information publicly under pressure from lawmakers or as a condition of
settling federal whistle-blower lawsuits.

  Company             2010 Speaker Payments   2010 U.S. Sales
  ------------------- ----------------------- -----------------
  Lilly               $61,477,547             $14.3 billion
  GlaxoSmithKline     $52,755,793             $13.6 billion
  Pfizer              $34,382,574             $26.2 billion
  AstraZeneca         $31,647,101             $18.3 billion
  Merck               $20,365,446             $18.8 billion
  Johnson & Johnson   $11,712,900             $12.9 billion
  Cephalon            $4,241,080              $2.1 billion
  ViiV Healthcare     $3,975,102              Unavailable

In October, [ProPublica published a database called Dollars for Docs][]
that included information from those companies. It allows the public to
search for individual physicians to see whether they?ve been on pharma?s

Today, ProPublica is updating that tool to include payments made to
health professionals by 12 companies. Eight of those published data for
all of 2010: Lilly, GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, Merck, Cephalon, Johnson &
Johnson, ViiV Healthcare and AstraZeneca.

In addition to the payments made to speakers, some of the companies also
disclosed how much they?ve spent on consulting, travel, meals and

In all, payments to doctors and other health-care providers in
ProPublica?s database total more than $760 million and cover reports
from drug companies between 2009 and the second quarter of 2011.

== Some Docs Pull Out ==

The new data offer a glimpse of how the firms have adapted their
strategies over time, both to changes in the marketplace and to
increased scrutiny of their sales techniques.

Many experts predict physicians will back away from working for the
companies once their names and pay are publicly revealed.

It?s too early to know if this is true, but ProPublica?s analysis shows
that the payouts to dozens of doctors and other health professionals
took a steep dive last year.

Pulmonologist Veena Antony, for example, was paid at least $88,000 to
give promotional talks for GlaxoSmithKline in 2009. But last year, the
Birmingham, Ala., doctor gave them up out of concern that patients might
think her advice was tainted.

?You don?t even want the appearance that I might be influenced by
anything that a company gave,? she said.

Cancer specialist Nam Dang was a regular on Cephalon?s speaking circuit,
pulling in $131,250 in 2009. But those promotional gigs stopped, he
said, after he took a job at the University of Florida in Gainesville,
which bans such talks. In 2010, he received $10,000 for consulting for
Cephalon and Pfizer.

Nurse practitioner Terri Warren, who runs a Portland, Ore., health
clinic, earned at least $113,000 from Glaxo in 2009, mostly talking
about its herpes drug Valtrex. In 2010, that dropped to $300 after the
drug went off patent and Glaxo no longer had a financial incentive to
promote it.

?It?s a business decision, clearly,? said Warren, who felt her talks
helped educate other health professionals about treating a taboo
illness. ?My money [from Glaxo] went into keeping this little clinic
alive, and now we have to figure out some other way to do that.?

Another group of physicians has ramped up speaking engagements and

Buffalo hematologist Zale Bernstein earned $49,250 from Cephalon in
2009. The following year, his pay jumped to $177,800 (plus an additional
$35,500 for travel). Bernstein did not return calls for comment.

Pain specialist Gerald M. Sacks spoke and consulted for four companies
in the database and was among the highest paid. The Santa Monica,
Calif., doctor earned $270,825 from Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Lilly and
Cephalon in 2010, up from $225,575 in 2009. Those figures do not include
travel costs and meals.

Over 18 months, Pfizer alone paid Sacks $318,250 for speaking. He did
not return repeated calls for comment.

Pfizer?s new disclosure also revealed an unusual recipient. Its top-paid
physician consultant last year, Dr. Christiana Goh Bardon, runs a hedge
fund in Boston that bets on the rise and fall of health-care companies.
She was paid nearly $308,000 to ?provide input on our BioTherapeutics
business development plan,? Pfizer spokeswoman Kristen Neese wrote in an

Bardon, who started her hedge fund after her Pfizer contract ended, was
required to sign a confidentiality agreement and not allowed to invest
in Pfizer or any of the biotech companies that Pfizer was looking at
acquiring or partnering with for projects, Neese said.

Bardon said in a voice-mail message that she does not currently practice
as a physician and her work was based on her business acumen.

== Drug Companies Change Their Strategies ==

Some companies apparently have used fewer physician speakers and
consultants since they began posting their data publicly.

Cephalon, a relatively small Pennsylvania company that specializes in
pain, cancer and central nervous system drugs, paid physicians nearly
$9.3 million in 2009 for speaking and consulting. That figure dropped to
$5 million last year.

?There wasn?t one big thing that happened that shifted the focus,? said
spokeswoman Jenifer Antonacci. Rather, the company?s marketing
strategies for its brands changed.

AstraZeneca cut its spending on speakers from roughly $22.8 million in
the first half of 2010 to about $9.2 million in the second half.

The company?s U.S. compliance officer, Marie Martino, said AstraZeneca
typically holds most of its speaker events in the beginning of each
year. But she acknowledged that the company?s spending on promotional
talks has been decreasing.

?We?re in a period now where we don?t have a lot of new indications
[approved uses] or new products that have been introduced in recent
months, and that really is the fundamental explanation for what you?re
seeing,? Martino said.

AstraZeneca, like other companies, is also replacing some in-person
speaking events with teleconferences, webcasts and video conferences.

Glaxo?s spending on speakers also slowed in 2010, averaging about $13.2
million per quarter in 2010, down 15 percent from the last three
quarters of 2009. (Glaxo did not report data in the first quarter of

Company spokeswoman Mary Anne Rhyne said the company is working to
reduce its speaker rolls by 50 percent. ?We feel it is a better use of
resources to use fewer speakers more often. This cuts down on training
costs as well as lessens the number of contracts needed,? she wrote in
an email.

And Lilly?s speaker payments dropped 10 percent from 2009 to 2010, which
spokesman MacGregor said was likely due to ?normal year-to-year

ProPublica?s early analysis of the data is limited because so few
companies report their spending and even then, disclose different
information. Lilly, for example, reports every health professional it
pays to speak, while Pfizer includes only those who can prescribe.

?It?s really unclear how much money is being spent in any one of these
areas,? said Vincent DeChellis, a principal at NHHS Healthcare
Consulting, which has studied the data. ?As you get more and more
companies participating and submitting this information, you?re going to
get an initial look? at what may be a multibillion-dollar practice.

[When Massachusetts required drug and device companies to report
payments to doctors in that state last year][], 286 companies did so.

Scrutiny of speaker programs has prompted changes.

After ProPublica reported last year that [some drug-company speakers had
been sanctioned by their state medical boards][], the firms [pledged to
toughen their screening procedures][] and exclude physicians with
disciplinary records.

Separately, [ProPublica found that universities were not enforcing their
own policies][] barring physicians from giving promotional speeches. In
response, a number of [schools said they would begin using the payment
rosters to check for rule-breakers][].

Pharma?s trade group said the focus of most companies right now is
ensuring the accuracy of data that will be publicly released in 2013.
But this transparency also must be put into context for patients, said
Diane Bieri, executive vice president and general counsel for the
Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

Doctors help develop new medicines, advise companies on marketing and
help educate their peers about appropriate uses of new drugs, she said.

?If the only information that?s available is that company A paid doctor
B $75,000 for a consulting arrangement,? she said, ?that?s typically not
enough information to really educate the patient about what was involved
in that relationship.?

 [Follow @charlesornstein][]
 [Follow @tracyweber][]
 [Follow @dancow][]

  [1]: http://www.propublica.org/series/dollars-for-docs/
  [what the public can expect to see in 2013]:
  [ProPublica published a database called Dollars for Docs]:
  [When Massachusetts required drug and device companies to report
payments to doctors in that state last year]:
  [some drug-company speakers had been sanctioned by their state medical
  [pledged to toughen their screening procedures]:
  [ProPublica found that universities were not enforcing their own
  [schools said they would begin using the payment rosters to check for
  [Follow @charlesornstein]: http://www.twitter.com/charlesornstein
  [Follow @tracyweber]: http://www.twitter.com/tracyweber
  [Follow @dancow]: http://www.twitter.com/dancow

- -- 
Pranesh Prakash
Programme Manager
Centre for Internet and Society
W: http://cis-india.org | T: +91 80 40926283
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