Glaxo paid celeb doctor big bucks to tout Wellbutrin, feds say

Wondering why GlaxoSmithKline CEO Andrew Witty touted his database of payments to doctors yesterday? The answer lies in the Justice Department's press release about Glaxo's $3 billion settlement. According to the feds, Glaxo ($GSK) paid doctors to talk up off-label uses for its drugs, particularly the antidepressants Paxil and Wellbutrin.

But that dry government statement doesn't begin to cover it. As Matthew Herper reports in Forbes, Justice investigators say GSK shelled out $275,000 in March and April 1999 to just one doctor: the celebrity physician Dr. Drew Pinsky.

In return for those payments, Pinsky would serve as a spokesperson for Wellbutrin, according to the government's case against Glaxo. And Pinsky went on to promote Wellbutrin's positive effect on sex drive, in contrast to other antidepressants' depressing effects on the libido.

Glaxo didn't have FDA clearance to say Wellbutrin preserved patients' sex drive. But according to the government, Pinsky called Wellbutrin the drug "we advocate, one of the things we suggest people do if they're getting a decrease in their libido or decrease in their arousal which typically occurs in the serotonin re-uptake inhibitor medication," during a radio appearance.

Pinsky is perhaps the most recognizable name on the government's list of experts it says Glaxo paid to promote its drugs. His $275,000 income from GSK wasn't disclosed at the time. It would be today, under the company's payment-reporting policy. And that's why Witty wants to talk about it.

- read the Forbes piece

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