Merck, Lilly, Pfizer top $1B doc-payments list

Drugmakers forked over more than $1 billion to doctors last year, significantly more than reported in 2011. And those are only the amounts we know about. According to a new data analysis by PharmaShine, reported in the Financial Times, that figure only includes the 12 leading drugmakers who actually disclose physician payments.

Company by company, however, payments appear to be on the decline. The total may surpass figures for previous years, but that's because several companies, including AbbVie ($ABBV) and Forest Laboratories ($FRX), reported for the first time. Most drugmakers that posted year-over-year numbers showed reductions in spending compared with 2011, the FT says.

The FT's analysis comes as drugmakers are readying for mandated disclosures under the Physician Payment Sunshine Act, which passed along with U.S. healthcare reform. And it follows several years of debate about pharma's financial relationships with doctors, marked by several high-profile scandals. Worried about potential undue influence on prescribing doctors, academic medical centers, private practices and even state legislatures have either limited contact between drugmakers and doctors or limited the gifts and payments doctors can receive--or both. Some companies, including GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK), have placed limits on their own per-doctor payments.

For 2012, the company topping the physician-payment list is Merck ($MRK), with $226 million, followed by Eli Lilly ($LLY) at $219 million and Pfizer ($PFE) at $162 million. Merck's 2012 number is significantly more than its 2011 figures because the company offered up more comprehensive data for the first time, the FT says.

The FT's numbers include payments for clinical research, which amounted to almost $700 million in total. Lilly's total, for instance, includes $181 million spent on research. Some $200 million of the industry total covered fees for consulting, advising and speaking, with nearly $100 million in meals and entertainment.

Some of Big Pharma's biggest haven't as yet disclosed any information on physician payments, including Sanofi ($SNY), Roche ($RHHBY), Bayer and Amgen ($AMGN). Many of the companies that do were required to do so by integrity agreements with the U.S. government. Later this year, all drugmakers operating in the U.S. will be required to start reporting their numbers to regulators, with public posting required next fall.

- see the FT story (sub. req.)