Oddly Enough

New drug marketing code draws line at gift pens

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Come next year, doctors may start to see a problem they’ve yet to experience -- a pen shortage.

New guidelines released on Thursday by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) prohibit drug makers from giving out pens, as well as other “non-educational” items such as mugs, to healthcare providers and their staffs.

As part of its revised marketing code, the pharmaceutical trade organization determined that such items, which are typically adorned with a company or product logo, may foster misperceptions that these interactions with healthcare professionals “are not based on informing them about medical and scientific issues.”

“It has the look of an unprofessional relationship,” said Billy Tauzin, president and chief executive officer of PhRMA, during a media briefing on the revised code. “Removing that look is important.”

The PhRMA directives, effective January 1, also bar company sales representatives from taking doctors and healthcare providers out for dinners, although they allow companies to provide meals in doctors’ offices in conjunction with informational presentations.

Merck and Co Inc., GlaxoSmithKline Plc, Amgen Inc and AstraZeneca Plc were among the companies issuing press releases in support of the new guidelines, which are voluntary. The last time PhRMA revised its guidelines was in 2002.

A 2007 study in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that drug makers spend $30 billion a year on marketing drugs, although the study did not specify how much the companies spend on so-called “reminder” objects, like bottles of lotion, clipboards and flashlights.

“Probably too much,” said Seamus Fernandez, an analyst with Leerink Swann.

Fernandez said the measure won’t result in big savings, although over time they might see cost cuts from reducing the need for representatives.

“If you’re not dropping off the junk, you probably really don’t have to pay for that detail,” he said. “You may actually save more.”

Fernandez added that the policy will probably not hurt drug makers’ marketing efforts because their approach has shifted to more direct-to-consumer methods and relying on pitches by sales representatives.

At the Thursday afternoon media briefing, Tauzin said PhRMA will soon consider improvements on its code overseeing consumer marketing.

The drug industry trade association also is supporting U.S. legislation to create a national registry of payments to doctors.

The bill, co-sponsored by Wisconsin Democratic Senator Herb Kohl and Iowa Republican Senator Charles Grassley, would require drug and medical device companies to publicly disclose payments to doctors of $500 or more.

Increasingly, states in the U.S. have passed or are debating legislation that would require pharmaceutical companies to disclose the payments they make to doctors.

For example, Minnesota has prohibited giving gifts to doctors in excess of $50.

On Wednesday, Vermont released its annual report of drug makers’ marketing efforts, finding that 84 drug makers spent more than $3 million in fiscal 2007 to market their drugs in the state, up 33 percent from the year before.

Editing by Gerald E. McCormick