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Big Pharma Gears Up for a Fight over Gifts to Docs

Big Pharma Gears Up for a Fight over Gifts to Docs

April 14, 2008

Fight of the week -- Big Pharma vs. the Public. Sen. Murray's cost control legislation -- scheduled for release tomorrow and for Senate floor debate on Thursday -- includes provisions banning gifts from drug and medical device makers to physicians because of well-established evidence that such gifts inappropriately influence physician prescribing behavior. The industry is now fighting back (from today's State House News Service):

Pharmaceutical companies are attacking Senate President Therese Murray's effort to block their firms from providing gifts, meals or trips to doctors, calling it an anti-business policy that would hobble efforts to deliver cutting-edge drugs to patients. In a letter to the chairs of the Legislature's Economic Development and Emerging Technologies Committee, executives from Pfizer, Amgen, Abbot Bioresearch Center, Genentech, all of which have facilities in Massachusetts, ripped the gift ban as counter to Beacon Hill's painstaking efforts to lure the life sciences industry, highlighted by Gov. Deval Patrick's nearly year-old $1 billion incentives plan headed for legislative approval. "The proposal to restrict the ability of biopharma companies to interact with physicians … will send the message loud and clear to biopharma CEO's considering expansion or new investment: Go elsewhere," reads the letter, signed by Pfizer COO W. Stephen Faraci, Amgen executive director Mark Duggan, Genentech state government affairs director Todd Kaufman, and Abbot divisional vice president Peter Isakson. "We're sure you agree that a campaign contribution doesn't impact your commitment to serve your constituents," they wrote. ... The executives look to dismiss the idea of doctors "being wined and dined, flown to exotic destinations or given tickets courtside to see the Celtics." Instead, they said, doctors attend "lunch and learn" programs on FDA decisions or go to speakers' conferences in the evening. They wrote, "Would there be a growing life sciences industry for this state to try to attract and support if that industry weren't allowed to compete in the marketplace for a profitable return on its research investment? "The answer of course is no. The same industry in which the state's life sciences initiative seeks to invest more than $1 billion must have the ability to bring its products to patients, through responsible interactions with physicians, in order to remain viable enterprises." Christopher Anderson, president of the Mass. High Tech Council, said the effort to curb marketing pointed to a larger "divergence" on the Hill. "Which state policy is the Massachusetts state policy toward economic development? When you try to court the life sciences industry, you're really courting the pharmaceutical industry, because they're effectively one."

Sen. Murray's legislation does not ban physician education -- it bans gifts and other practices intended to distort prescribing behavior. Anderson's comment is noteworthy -- life sciences is big pharma and big pharma is now life sciences. It will be interesting to see which senators stand up to defend these practices. For more on this issue, visit the MA Prescription Reform Coalition.