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New data shows pharma has not cut back on controversial payments to physicians

Published on 06/07/17 at 05:00pm

Despite increasing controversy arising over the years due to the questionable relationship between physicians and pharma and the money which flows between them, and amid calls for greater transparency of spending and practice, new data from the US government’s Open Payments database suggests that non-research funding spent by pharma companies has not dropped.

Many have vocally criticised the behaviour of firms who have spent sizeable funds on offering physicians dinner, business trips and consulting and speaking opportunities, allegedly to woo them into prescribing their medications – a connection which has been strongly supported by research findings from the Journal of the American Medical Association last year.

It was thought that the controversy that arose as a result of these shady practices would prompt a downturn in the vast quantities of money shelled out by pharma to these ends, but surprisingly, this spending has remained consistent. General payments from the pharma industry to providers, including food, travel, lodging and other similar goods and services, reached $2.68 billion in 2014. This figure remained the same in 2015, but actually rose to $2.8 billion last year.

In line with this, the total quantity of funds which doctors and physicians accepted from non-research-based sources came in at $625,000 in 2014, rising to $632,000 in 2015. The figure fell slightly last year, to $632,000.  

The numbers clearly show that a demand for greater transparency has done nothing to relax pharma’s supposedly illicit spending habits. In total, funding received by providers from drug and device companies reached $8.2 billion in 2016, covering travel, food, lodging, investment interests, consulting and speaking charges, and royalties and licensing payments, with research accounting for half of the figure.

Allergan was the worst offender, paying $66.4 million. Sanofi followed with $58.4 million, Celgene with $54.6 million, Valeant with $53.1 million, and Biogen with $50 million.

Matt Fellows

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