Valeant and Allergan's wining-and-dining shows docs still hold the script reins

Payers have been grabbing more and more of the spotlight as script gatekeepers lately. But if the recently concluded takeover fight between Valeant ($VRX) and Allergan ($AGN) is any indication, doctors are still extremely influential--and can be influenced.

Valeant spent months trying to buy the Botox maker before Actavis ($ACT) swooped in and snatched it up. Along the way, it socked time and money into courting the doctors it would need on its side if its bid proved successful, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The company met with 45 influential cosmetic surgeons and dermatologists it would rely on for business--and these weren't run-of-the-mill conversations. Included in those meetings, Valeant told the WSJ: airfares, two-night stays at luxury hotels, meals, and consulting fees that could total as much as $30,000.

The effort helped change at least some docs' perceptions of Valeant and its business model. "I thought they were the big, bad corporate raider. I came out with a warm fuzzy feeling afterward," one plastic surgeon, who said he expects to be paid about $16,000 for his participation, told the WSJ. Another said that if the Canadian pharma were to buy Allergan and do "everything they said they would do at the meeting, I have a very positive feeling about the company."

Allergan, meanwhile, invested its fair share into keeping physicians on its side. In June, it held the annual meeting of its "Allergan Leadership in Facial Aesthetics" global advisory board in Ireland, paying for business-class flights, about $130 a night for hotel rooms and $8,000 to $23,000 stipends for 20 docs from around the world, the company told the Journal.

While doctor payments and gifts have come under more and more scrutiny lately--especially in light of the Sunshine Act, which requires physicians to log what they've received from pharma companies for use in a public database--pharma companies have argued that their doctor meetings provide useful info, rather than affect treatment decisions improperly.

"It's commonplace in the industry to get leading physicians together to help you understand the market and their business," Dan Spira, head of Valeant's North American aesthetics business, told the WSJ. "I struggle to think they are unduly influenced given the range of meetings they go to and the companies they interact with."

Adriane Fugh-Berman

But watchdogs maintain that payments are persuasive, no matter their size or form. "[I]t's the relationship," Adriane Fugh-Berman of Georgetown University Medical Center, told Medscape in September of the billions drug and device companies spend on recruiting doctor-speakers alone. "If this didn't work, they wouldn't be doing it."

- read the Wall Street Journal story (sub. req.)