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ABPI reveals 10% increase in HCP payment disclosure

Published on 30/06/17 at 12:27pm

The headline news from the ABPI’s press conference on Disclosure UK was that healthcare professionals’ (HCPs) disclosure of payments for collaboration with the pharmaceutical industry was up 10% from the previous year. The annual update to its release of data on industry-wide disclosure figures also showed a marked increase in payments between the industry and HCPs, with a rise of 25%.

The total figure of payments in 2016 was £454.5 million, a significant surge from the 2015 figure of £363 million. This was explained by an increase in spending on payments to healthcare professionals related to research and development. Particularly, R&D payments refer to clinical trials, non-clinical studies and non-interventional studies, with these studies being undertaken on behalf of the industry, and therefore paid for by the industry.

This increase in funding of partnerships in R&D was the focus of much of this week's press conference, with Brexit referenced to provide a clue as to why this spending had increased – though it came with the caveat that as the data snapshot only included six months of post-referendum decision, it may not be the complete story.

Mike Thomson, Chief Executive of the ABPI, commented at the event: “It’s a milestone for us and it’s a milestone on the journey towards transparency...We’re obviously pleased to see that there has been an increase in the number of HCPs who have chosen to disclose over a thousand more this year; I think that’s significant. I think the other point that is quite interesting to see is the amount of money that’s being spent in R&D is going up. I think it’s a bellwether for us, in Brexit terms. More money being in R&D in the UK is a good thing.”

The ABPI revealed figures that suggested 74% of all payments to HCPs and healthcare organisations (HCO) were related to R&D activities.

The number of HCPs disclosing payments increased from 55% to 65%, each of whom can be searched in the online database. The remaining 35% who choose not to disclose details of payments received from the industry represent 40% of the non-R&D fees paid by the industry to HCPs. It was noted that this did mean that those choosing not to disclose were being paid statistically more than who did disclose. However, it was stressed that the ABPI is not able to compel individuals to disclose and that it would focus a ‘hearts and minds’ campaigns to raise the figures.

In total, 82% of the total sum paid to individuals, HCPs and HCOs of the fees were disclosed. The average amount of money spent by the 115 companies involved was approximately £4 million.

The main point of contention that arose during the press conference focused on the three-year rolling data renewal. This means that the data is only publicly available from each year for three years before it is deleted from the system to be replaced by a new year’s data.

 Dr. Virginia Acha, ABPI’s Executive Director of Research, Medical and Innovation, explained the reasoning behind this process: “That’s the requirement across Europe, currently. We’re following an agreement that was made five years ago but these things always get revisited. I think if you look back over the last 20 years that you will see a lot of revision and things have improved; in fact, it’s probably one of the most exciting times if you are interested in examining how much data are available now.”

The question, of course, will remain until such a revision is made. However, as noted, as this is only the second year from which data has been released, it is not yet applicable. The test will come once the third year of data is released and any subsequent decision made on previous years’ data.

Haseeb Ahmad, Managing Director of Novartis UK & Ireland, released a statement on his company’s contribution to Disclosure UK: “We are proud that so many (94%) of the doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other health professionals who have received a payment or transfer of value from Novartis have publically disclosed this information via the ABPI web-based platform, Disclosure UK. The Novartis disclosure rate is well above the industry average and a 12 point percentage increase from last year’s consent rate. At Novartis we continue to be fully committed to ensure transparency around all our collaborations.”

The general trend within the industry, as noted in this specific case by Novartis, seems to be a move towards greater transparency. It is no secret that the pharmaceutical industry does not enjoy the greatest reputation among the general public, with YouGov polls depicting poor scores in terms of trustworthiness. The ABPI’s Disclosure UK should help aid this, if the numbers of participants continue to steadily increase.

However, one case that potentially detracts from the work the ABPI is doing to improve disclosure is its action in regards to Astellas. Only six days ago, the ABPI released that the company would endure another year suspension from ABPI membership after holding a meeting with doctors in Milan under false pretences. This is exactly the kind of behaviour that the industry is keen to distance itself from with Disclosure UK, yet it remains open to question whether a further year's suspension from the ABPI is a strong enough deterrent. It shows that there is still much to be done in the industry to improve its image.

Ben Hargreaves

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