A Healthy Blog

Massachusetts health care — wonky, with a healthy dose of reality

Happy [Prescription Drug Marketing Transparency] New Year!

Happy [Prescription Drug Marketing Transparency] New Year!

July 1, 2010

As we do every July 1, we celebrate the state's fiscal new year by highlighting the new laws that take effect today.

Last year, on July 1, 2009, our restrictions on major gifts to physicians from pharmaceutical and medical device industry took effect. Today, those industries must file compliance forms with the Department of Public Health. The reports will detail payments made by the firms to doctors. The disclosure will allow patients the opportunity to know if their doctor is on the payroll of one or more of the drug companies (see a case study, unveiled by channel 5 last fall). We know that aggressive industry marketing of new drugs and devices to doctors through undisclosed gifts, consulting payments, speaking fees, classes, and meals can inappropriately influence medical decisions and create conflicts of interest. Sunshine is here!

Today's achievement is threatened. Buried in the economic reorganization bill released last week by the House Ways and Means Committee, is a one-line provision repealing the entire drug marketing law. Opponents of the ban argue that it has forced medical industry jobs out of Massachusetts during the recession. They also claim it is killing the restaurant business. These claims are unsupported.

We covered in detail the restaurant charge two weeks ago. Bottom line: upscale restaurants all over the country are hurting, just like in Massachusetts. It's the recession, not the drug law.

Contrary to the opponents’ fears and despite the state of the economy, the bio tech industry in Massachusetts continues to expand.

The New York Times reported (Biopharmaceutical Industry Is Banking on Boston) in January that "For the first time since the early 1990s, new factories — not just expansions of existing ones — are going up in this area." As of early 2010, Genzyme, Bristol Myers Squibb, Shire Pharmaceuticals, and Acceleron Pharma have all announced capital investments. In fact, there is currently $2.3 billion worth of factory development in the Boston-area. The companies stress their location choice based on wanting to be “close to mentors, colleagues, friends and competitors in the research communities around the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard.” Additionally, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, with three of its researchers landing grants from the National Institute of Health and the U.S. Department of Agriculture for biochemistry and biotechnology research, presents another incentive for industry to remain nearby and serves as yet another example that Massachusetts is still attracting research.

Not only is business not leaving Massachusetts, but many biotech companies are in fact relocating to the Commonwealth. For example:

  • On March 3, 2010, the Boston Globe reported (Merck chairman: Massachusetts is good luck for us) that Merck is planning to move its US chemicals business headquarters from New Jersey to Billerica, Massachusetts. According to Dr. Karl-Ludwig Kley, Merck’s chairman, “everything we do turns out to be in Massachusetts is good luck for us and for Massachusetts… Massachusetts is an extremely attractive state to do business for research or innovation companies.”
  • On January 22, 2010, the Boston Business Journal reported that Massachusetts start-ups are continuing their venture-funding streak. These start-ups, showing confidence in their present and future earnings, include Catabasis Pharmaceuticals, Arsenal Medical Inc., Artisan Pharmaceuticals Inc., and ProChon Biotech.
  • On November 23, 2009, the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center (BCEC), announced its plan to double in size. Among the reasons behind the expansion included the fact that according to the BCEC’s Executive Director, James Rooney, over the last year they “lost the opportunity to host 72 future events that wanted to come here.” Additionally, despite BCEC officials said that "many of the prospective conventions match up with key economic growth sectors like life sciences, medicine and technology.”
  • The industry publication Medical Meetings (Massachusetts Medical Meetings Business Still Healthy) reported that

    "the actual fallout out [of the gifts law] has been about nil. No meetings were pulled out of Boston because of the new law, and, albeit after much discussion, organizations that were considering booking Boston for the future are still including the city in their site selection proposals.

    The convention industry even had good things to say about the law. Medical Meetings reported that "[Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau President Pat] Moscaritolo sounds proud as he says, 'We as a bureau were very aggressive in dealing with this challenge, very proactive in responding to the challenge of what these rules and regs meant, and in engaging our customers. Long-term we’ll find out whether these rules in our state and others will drive down healthcare costs—it’ll be years before we know that. But in the short term, it brought us closer to our customers in medical meetings and pharma and biotech.'”

-Shoshana Speiser and Devin Cohen