Doctor payments back on the table at GlaxoSmithKline with rollback of its total ban

GlaxoSmithKline GSK House in Brentford, UK
GSK said it will loosen its doctor-payment ban, the only one of its kind in the industry, but only in specific cases in certain countries and within limited windows of time. (GlaxoSmithKline)

As scrutiny over pharma payments to doctors and nurses makes headlines once again, GlaxoSmithKline is loosening the reins on its restrictive policy against those payments—the strictest in the industry—to allow some exceptions.

The pharma will begin to allow speaker payments, travel reimbursement and payment of registration fees for remote webinars for healthcare providers “in a select number of innovative products in a limited number of countries and apply to restricted time periods in a product’s lifecycle,” the company said in a statement.

The changes apply to the GSK pharmaceuticals and vaccines businesses, as well as its HIV-focused joint venture with Pfizer and Shionogi, ViiV Healthcare.

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GSK was the first pharma to nix speaker payments to doctors several years ago, officially completing the change in 2016, and switching to using internal experts instead. The move was part of a broader transparency initiative across the company. For instance, GSK also changed the way it incentivized sales reps and switched to paying bonuses based on scientific knowledge and healthcare provider relationships, instead of the number of prescriptions delivered.

While GSK was clear that the updated policy is limited to certain products, countries and time periods, its statement was vague on specific drugs where the policy might be applied. It said simply that the “policy update is being made to ensure we continue to operate responsibly and improve how we help prescribers to understand new data and clinical experience with our innovative products, so they can deliver better outcomes for patients.”

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No other big pharma company followed GSK’s lead in stopping doctor payments, which potentially left GSK at a disadvantage with key opinion leaders and HCP influencers.

Reuters reported that a source close to the company said “the total payments under the new arrangements are expected to be significantly below pre-2013 levels.” In 2011, GSK was second among pharma companies with $85 million paid to doctors for clinical trials and speaking fees. Of that total, $28.5 million was paid to institutions and researchers working on studies.The remaining $56.8 million went to doctors and other healthcare professionals for speaking and advisory work.  Pfizer topped the list that year with $177 million in spent.