Some US drugmakers slash doctor payments as Sunshine Act draws closer: analysis

Payments from some pharmaceutical companies to US health professionals for promotional speeches have fallen as the introduction of the Physician Payments Sunshine Act nears, according to an analysis from ProPublica. The report showed that Pfizer's payments to doctors dropped 62 percent from nearly $22 million in 2011 to $8.3 million in 2012, while Eli Lilly's payments declined by 55 percent over the same period, from $47.9 million to $21.6 million.

In addition, Novartis spent 40 percent less on physician speakers in 2012 than it did between October 2010 and September 2011, cutting payments from $24.8 million to $14.8 million. According to ProPublica, GlaxoSmithKline, which announced in December last year that it would end promotional payments to doctors, spent $9.3 million on such activities in 2012, down from $24 million in 2011. However, speaker payments by Johnson & Johnson increased 17 percent from 2011 to 2012, while AstraZeneca's payments remained flat in 2012, after a significant decline a year earlier.

The first disclosures required under the Sunshine Act, which calls for all pharmaceutical and medical device companies to publicly report payments to physicians, are expected in September and will cover the period of August to December 2013. However, some drugmakers indicated that recent declines in payment fees to doctors are unrelated to the new US legislation, but rather to do with the loss of patent protection for key products.

J. Scott MacGregor, a spokesman for Eli Lilly, which began facing generic competition for Zyprexa (olanzapine) in late 2011, noted that "the value of educational programmes tends to be higher when we're launching a new medicine or we have new clinical data/new indication." MacGregor added that the drop in speaking payments also reflects the increased use of Web conferencing. Pfizer spokesman Dean Mastrojohn commented "like any other company, our business practices must adapt to the changing nature of our product portfolio, based in part on products going off patent and new products being introduced into the market." Pfizer lost patent protection on Lipitor (atorvastatin) in 2011.

According to Novartis, its speaking payments dropped in 2012, in part, because of a shift from blockbuster drugs to specialty products, while resources were also moved "to support potential future product launches." The company's patent for Femara (letrozole) expired in 2011, while Diovan (valsartan) lost exclusivity in 2012.

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