No means no: Global pharma group bans any and all gifts to doctors

Goodbye to global goodies. A leading international pharma trade group updated its guidelines for 2019 to strictly forbid all gifts, or "goodies,” handed out by prescription drug makers.

The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) made the change in part to eliminate exceptions that allowed customary gifts to mark national, cultural or religious events. The group specifically called out two of them—mooncakes and condolence payments—traditional in China.

In China, mooncakes are customarily given as gifts, but the practice came under scrutiny as drugmakers distributed ever-more-elaborate—and expensive—versions that earned a reputation as bribes. The same issue arose around condolence payments traditionally sent after a loved one dies. The Chinese government cracked down on both practices in 2013 in a wave of anticorruption campaigns.

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“The ban reflects pharma industry’s commitment towards the general concern that the promotional items trivialize the important, professional relationship that must exist between medical representatives and healthcare professionals, and that has the patient’s interests at its core,” IFPMA wrote in a news release. The group represents research-based pharma with members including all of the largest multinational drugmakers. Its current president is David Ricks, chairman and CEO at Eli Lilly, who took over from now-former Pfizer chairman and CEO Ian Read in December.

The problem for global Big Pharma is that the gifts have been used as a way to signal local cultural understanding and build relationships, but the industry does seem to be moving toward a more standardized global practice. A Bloomberg Law article about the IFPMA changes reported that global pharma companies “have less time to manage nuanced, local interpretations of giving customs and are more focused on establishing core, measurable approaches to common business practices that pose common risk.”

The other reason given for the 2019 code change is to introduce a move from a rules-based approach to a values-based code. IFPMA said it’s looking to build better business behaviors between its members and HCPs.

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“IFPMA’s new Ethos aims to go beyond and seeks to instill a culture of ethics and integrity. … This new ethical framework will guide business behaviors and interactions between IFPMA members and the healthcare community, no matter how testing the circumstances,” according to the news release.

The ethical code of practice was first established by IFPMA in 1981 and has been revised five times since then to reflect changing industry and societal expectations.

The new rules come as the U.S. industry particularly is under the microscope over gifts and payments to doctors, nurses and advocacy groups with some states and cities, most recently Philadelphia, trying to legislate pharma actions.