Merck, Schering spent $60M on CME

According to a report released by the Senate Special Committee on Aging, Merck and Schering-Plough spent almost $60 million over four years (from January 2004 to January 2008) on continuing medical education classes for doctors. The money was handed to a number of well-known medical institutions, including Harvard University, the American Heart Association, American College of Cardiology and the George Washington University, among others.

Congress is concerned that the payments are used to fund classes that urge physicians to prescribe particular drugs, in this case Merck and Schering-Plough's controversial heart drug Vytorin. Lawmakers are hoping to enact legislation that requires drugmakers to disclose payment information. "These documents remove any doubt that, at least in this case, when drug companies fund continuing medical education, they see it as money well spent on marketing their latest blockbuster drug," said Sen. Herb Kohl, D-WI, chairman of the Special Committee.

Pharma companies defend CME, saying that the courses are essential to keep doctors up-to-date on the latest treatments. And while companies may fund the classes, a Merck spokesperson notes that industry doesn't have a hand in determining the course materials or speakers. So far, lawmakers haven't found a direct correlation between CME payments and physician prescribing habits.

- read the Dow Jones report