GSK pulls ED ads to help rehab its image

GlaxoSmithKline is pulling ads for its erectile dysfunction drug Levitra. And it's making a big show of that choice: North American President Deirdre Connelly said it's part of the company's new push to be more transparent, to operate with integrity, and so on. "When we walk into your home through television, we have to do it in a respectful way," Connelly said to the Wall Street Journal.

Basically, Connelly lumped the Levitra ad move in with GSK's ongoing campaign to break with the past, which has been sullied by off-label marketing allegations, whistleblower suits, safety questions and quality problems. And when GSK took a $3.4 billion charge for legal liabilities--including lawsuits over the recently restricted diabetes drug Avandia and a potential Justice Department settlement in an off-label marketing probe--some industry observers pegged the move as an attempt to start fresh. That charge came on top of last year's $750 million manufacturing settlement, another longtime battle put to rest.

The company has done some other things aimed at the integrity target. It set up public databases of its payments to doctors and medical schools, and its educational and charitable grants. It changed the rules on funding continuing medical education. It just got rid of sales-related bonuses for reps, hoping that a broader job-performance focus will play well with patients and doctors--and perhaps to offset suspicions that could arise with an off-label marketing settlement. GSK has also cut prices in the developing world to give poor people easier access to medicines, a move CEO Andrew Witty has touted repeatedly. The message is clear--we're doing business differently now.

- see the Wall Street Journal article