In latest marketing-reform move, GSK recruits in-house doctors to speak for products

GlaxoSmithKline president of U.S. pharmaceuticals Dierdre Connelly--FiercePharma file photo

GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) may be phasing out speaking fees for doctors, but that doesn't mean doctors won't be speaking about its products. As Bloomberg reports, the company plans to add physicians to its in-house marketing staff.

"We'll continue to disseminate this very important information on drug benefits and risks, but we're just not going to do that by hiring external speakers," Dierdre Connelly, president of Glaxo's U.S. pharma business, told the news service. "We want to ensure that no one even perceives us to be doing anything wrong."

The U.K.-based drugmaker's move to stop paying doctors to speak on behalf of its products is part of a broader plan to reform its marketing and clean up its tarnished reputation. In 2012, the company agreed to pay a whopping $3 billion to wrap up a Department of Justice investigation into off-label promotions and other marketing-related claims. And last year, the company's Chinese operations were implicated in a bribery scheme; officials there have been cracking down on alleged corruption in the pharma business.

The company first overhauled its compensation for U.S. sales reps in 2011, nixing individual script quotas in favor of group goals and qualitative evaluations. In December, Glaxo said it would roll out those compensation changes worldwide and step away from speaking fees for doctors.

Now, Glaxo plans to hire doctors and scientists to help educate physicians about its products, Connelly says. How many isn't yet clear, the company told Bloomberg.

Like Glaxo's sales-compensation changes, this latest move has prompted some skepticism. Some in the pharma business believe that, without individual quotas, sales reps won't be as productive. Industry watchers now say that in-house doctor-promoters may not be as effective as external speakers. Other physicians may question their credibility and expertise, for one thing.

For another, they aren't likely to be as impressive as the "key opinion leaders" sought after by other drugmakers. "Doctors aren't influenced by just any other doctor," University of Michigan pharma expert Erik Gordon told Bloomberg. "They are influenced by doctors who are sufficiently well known, respected, and seen as key opinion leaders--real experts with lots of experience with patients."

- read the Bloomberg piece

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