By Ben Hirschler
LONDON (Reuters) – GlaxoSmithKline <GSK.L>, which five years ago stopped paying doctors for promoting its drugs, said on Tuesday it would allow such payments once again in limited circumstances.
The British group’s 2013 no-payment pledge marked a first for an industry battling past scandals over sales practices. But other drugmakers failed to follow suit, leaving it at a competitive disadvantage.
Drugmakers have long used so-called key opinion leaders to promote the benefits of their products to other prescribing physicians and the decision to abandon this strategy was questioned by a number of analysts.
GSK’s new updated policy on working with healthcare professionals will now permit payments to global experts who speak about the science behind novel new medicines.
“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 drugmaker said.
Overall, the total payments under the new arrangements are expected to be significantly below pre-2013 levels, according to one person close to the company.
GSK’s 2013 ban on paying doctors came amid a major bribery investigation in China, which landed it with a record fine, and was part of an effort by former chief executive Andrew Witty to improve the company’s reputation.
There was speculation at the time that other companies would be forced to follow suit, but in the event that did not happen.
Witty was replaced as CEO in 2017 by Emma Walmsley, who has brought a sharp commercial focus to operations, including a drive to reallocate resources to priority new medicines.
In addition to payments for speaking engagements, the updated GSK policy also allows for reasonable travel costs for medics to attend company-organised meetings – except in the United States – and registration fees for remote congress webinars and webcasts.
GSK added it would still not sponsor doctors to attend medical conferences.
(Reporting by Ben Hirschler; editing by David Evans)