Top 10 drug brands by payments to doctors

The criticism was inevitable when the U.S. government rolled out its first batch of Sunshine Act data in October. Drugmakers and doctors had already been grousing about omitted entries and misleading info. We at FiercePharma had our own selfish complaint: The Open Payments database is monstrous--way too large for us to download and analyze with our paltry computing power.

Lucky for us--and for readers--there's ProPublica, which has taken on the Sunshine data as one of its personal missions. The online news organization has put the physician and hospital payment information into its own database, easily searched online. Thanks to them, we now know which companies are rolling the most money into physician-speakers and other doctor-directed promotions--and on behalf of which drugs.

The top 10 list is below. As you'll see, some of the drugs are newly approved. Some have new competitors. Some have new indications to tout. Others are carrying a load of expectations for their companies, justified or not.

The practice of paying doctors to speak on behalf of drugs has grown controversial in recent years, partly because of some high-profile scandals involving highly paid physicians. Buying lunch--even coffee--for doctors isn't critic-free either. Though doctors deny it, studies have shown that prescribing habits change because of speaking gigs and dinner presentations. Some drugmakers have ratcheted back their payments to doctors in response to the criticism; GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) went so far as to back off of doctor-speakers altogether.

But as the numbers below show, speaking fees aren't going away. Neither is free lunch. Pharma companies want to get the word out about their meds, and this is a tried-and-true method of doing so.

The ProPublica numbers include payments to physicians and teaching hospitals, excluding royalties and research deals. The idea is to zero in on marketing-related payments. They cover the last 5 months of 2013, the most recent data available; the feds recently said they would roll out new Sunshine Act data once a year.

- here's the ProPublica database and top 10 list

-- Tracy Staton (email | Twitter)

Top 10 drug brands by payments to doctors