by Dr. S. Brown
Less than a year ago, Glaxo-SmithKline made a public pledge to stop using physicians as paid promoters of their pharmaceutical products. Now, with the release of their new diabetes product, Tanzeum, GSK also released a list of 168 freshly minted physician lecturers, specifically trained to promote the new drug.
As of yet, no other company has joined in the effort to clean up physician marketing of new drug products. Perhaps it became clear to the pharmaceutical giant that using doctors to promote their products was just too successful a tactic to give up, particularly if the competition refused to abide by the new rules.
Coincidentally, in the 2014, September 2 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine (Ann Int Med 2014; 161 (5): 363-363), Jerry Avorn, M.D. of Harvard University, authored an opinion piece deploring the pharmaceutical industry’s use of paid physician lecturers while praising Glaxo for its new policy abandoning this practice. Dr. Avorn wrote, “Whatever the motivation behind GSK’s decision and regardless of whether other drug companies emulate it, physicians should welcome it.” Avorn went on to say it is up to the individual doctor to pursue up-to-date medical education from sources free of commercial interests.
The idea to eliminate paid physician promoters was a good, ethical decision. Could it be that the recent three quarters of a billion dollar fine issued against GSK for bribing doctors to use its products in China, was just too big a hit at this time to begin a voluntary program which might put a little pinch on profits? The public should call on GSK to explain why it has abandoned its pledge so quickly.