- British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline will resume payments to doctors for promotion of its medicines in certain situations, stepping away from a 2013 pledge which had banned the practice.
- GSK will now allow payments to healthcare professionals who speak about its products in promotional settings, as well as pay for travel costs for doctors outside the U.S. to attend GSK-organized events. These changes will only take effect for certain products in select countries, the pharma said Tuesday.
- The policy shift will put Glaxo more in line with industry practice, even as marketing efforts by drugmakers continue to come under scrutiny from regulators and lawmakers.
GSK's decision in 2013 to restrict payments to doctors came as the company's practices were under a microscope both in the U.S. and abroad.
The year before, the company had reached a then-record $3 billion settlement with the U.S. government over illegal promotion of several of its drugs.
Sweeping in scope, the charges alleged GSK sponsored events and paid speakers to encourage the use of medicines like Paxil (paroxetine) and Wellbutrin (bupropion) for unapproved indications.
At the time, Glaxo was also under investigation for alleged bribery in China — charges that culminated in a 2014 guilty verdict from a Chinese court and payment of a £297 million fine to the Chinese government.
The move to limit payments, made under former company CEO Andrew Witty, was aimed at improving transparency and rebuilding GSK's reputation. Hopes that the decision would prompt a wider shift among industry have largely gone unfulfilled, leaving GSK out of step with its peers.
Drug companies typically pay doctors or key opinion leaders to discuss the science or clinical practice behind their drugs. Critics say they can improperly sway doctors to prescribe drugs based on that pay.
Under new CEO Emma Walmsley, GSK has emphasized commercial execution and backing its "winners," narrowing its therapeutic focus.
GSK will place limits on the payments it allows moving forward, however.
"These changes are being made for a select number of innovative products in a limited number of countries and apply to restricted time periods in a product's lifecycle," the company said in a statement, indicating the shift encompasses both its Pharmaceuticals and Vaccines division as well as its majority-owned ViiV Healthcare unit.
In 2019, GSK will also expand its reporting of payments to doctors and begin disclosing individual level payments annually in the U.S., Japan and other major markets.