Two drug giants spending less to woo doctors

Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline are offering fewer paid speeches and free dinners, which is good news for patients and taxpayers.

By Jonathan Berr Apr 12, 2013 12:31PM
Image: Pills (© SuperStock)Pfizer (PFE) and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), two of the largest drug companies, are spending less money trying to woo doctors to prescribe their products, another sign of the tough times facing big pharma.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the two companies reduced by double digits their spending on dinners and other events where doctors give speeches to their peers touting the efficacy of the companies' drugs. The paper notes that Pfizer alone cut spending on meals by 40%.

Critics have long argued that these payments result in more expensive drugs being prescribed that may be less effective than cheaper alternatives, which means they also drive up costs borne by taxpayers. Drug companies have countered that the payments are needed to compensate doctors for their time to learn about new medications. The industry is disclosing more information about its practices than it used to in response to pressure from Congress and regulators.
One reason why drug companies aren't buttering up doctors as much as they used to is that they have fewer people doing the schmoozing. Eli  Lilly (LLY), for one, is laying off hundreds of workers from its sales force as it faces the patent expiration for its antidepressant Cymbalta at the end of the year.

Not every company is reducing spending. As the Journal noted, AstraZeneca (AZN) and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) raised their payments to U.S. doctors last year, and other companies "implemented new payment-reporting systems that made year-over-year comparisons difficult." Some doctors continue to make big money courtesy of the drug companies.

Nashville, Tenn., psychiatrist Jon W. Draud earned more than $1 million last year delivering promotional talks for the industry, by far the most of any physician tracked in ProPublica's Dollars for Docs database.

More information about payments made by drug and medical device makers will be disclosed next year under a law dubbed the Sunshine Act.

Jonathan Berr does not own shares of the listed stocks. Follow him on Twitter @jdberr.

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Apr 12, 2013 1:11PM

Good. Now if they can just knock off the direct marketing via TV ads then that would be terrific.


I mean seriously, is there man, woman or child in the US who still hasn't heard all about the miracle drugs you've got for treating limp weenies and low-T? Give us a break already...

Apr 12, 2013 1:50PM

Not too say this is a bad thing but really why bother............ Wait until ObummerCare kicks in to see which doctors hang around then you won't waste your money.......... He11 you might end up greasing some 2 year computer school hack if they are the ones doing the doctoring.

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