Report: Biopharma's CME funding on the rise for first time since 2007

For the first time in years, biopharma funding for CME courses is on the upswing, according to a new report from the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME).

The group took a look at the industry's payments for CME and found that investments increased slightly by 2.4% to $675.9 million in 2014--the first jump since 2007. Before that, drug- and devicemakers' funding for CME actually decreased, with $1 billion in funding in 2008 declining to a 5-year low of $659 million in 2013.

The renewed industry support could suggest a change in priorities, Medical Marketing & Media reports. Companies started to cut their budgets for CME after the Senate Finance Committee launched a probe into pharma's grantmaking practices in 2005. But as the legal drama fades into the sunset, drugmakers seem ready to put renewed support into funding.

Especially with the advent of the Sunshine Act, pharma companies are shifting their budgets away from direct promotion and toward CME. A provision in the act allows drugmakers to avoid disclosing payments as long as they're made blindly, the MM&M article notes.

ACCME CEO Dr. Graham McMahon

Still, only 11% of CME activities are commercially funded and only a quarter of all CME income came from commercial sources, according to the ACCME report. Societies often host CME events and attendees pay a registration fee, which is then characterized as another source of income, ACCME CEO Dr. Graham McMahon told FiercePharmaMarketing. The increase in industry funding last year "reflects the value of education for the healthcare community and the support of our commercial sponsors in providing high quality education," he added.

But not everyone has the same take. Industry watchers have long argued that corporate backing for CME courses could unfairly sway doctors' prescribing decisions, and a new group recently joined the fray. Earlier this month, Unite Here, a union that represents about 270,000 hotel workers, launched a campaign to stop pharma's funding of CME. In 2011, the industry spent $736 million on the courses, and in 2013, CME activities were a "major beneficiary" of pharma gifts, cash or other compensation, Unite Here said in a statement.

"While it may very well be true that eliminating all pharma gifts to doctors is a worthy goal, we felt that it was important to start with CME courses … because CME courses are required in order for most doctors to keep their licenses," Unite Here spokeswoman Bethany Khan told FiercePharmaMarketing in an email.

But ACCME is standing by its practices. There is no evidence that the pharma and device industry is influencing physicians' prescribing behaviors in inappropriate ways, McMahon said. And the support ACCME receives from the industry is "highly regulated" by commercial standards, he added.

"We're always changing and adapting to diverse needs of the healthcare community, and we're always open to listening to the public and responding to issues at play at CME," McMahon said.

- here's the ACCME report (PDF)
- read the MM&M article (reg. req.)