Pfizer paid $35 mln to doctors over 6 months

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Pfizer Inc on Wednesday said it paid $35 million to some 4,500 doctors and researchers from July through December 2009 for a variety of services, including speaking fees, expert advice and work on clinical trials of its medicines.

The world’s largest drugmaker last year agreed to pay a record $2.3 billion fine and plead guilty to a criminal charge related to improper promotions of 13 of its medicines, but said the new disclosures were already in the works before that widely publicized settlement.

Moreover, Pfizer said the disclosures are in line with, and exceed, payment reporting provisions included in recently passed U.S. healthcare reform legislation.

About $15.3 million, or some 44 percent of Pfizer’s reported payments over the last six months of 2009, went to about 250 research organizations for clinical trials that began after July 1, or for payments made between July 1 and December 31 for clinical studies.

Some 1,500 healthcare professionals were paid an average $5,000 each for expert advice, while 2,800 doctors were paid an average of $3,400 in speaking fees to lecture peers about Pfizer’s drugs, the company said. The most highly compensated doctor received about $150,000 during the period, Pfizer said.

The disclosures, which are posted on its website,, involve those who received payments, meals or non-monetary educational items worth $25 or more, according to Pfizer.

“This information tells what our relationships are, so patients can put in the name of their physician (in the website) and see the doctor had a meal which cost this much, or a speaking engagement for that much,” said Pfizer spokeswoman Kristen Neese.

Neese said all types of payments mentioned in its report are legitimate means of fostering development of drugs and getting “real world” information from the medical community about the products.

She said the disclosures are part of an eight-year effort by Pfizer to become more transparent in how it conducts clinical trials, pays for them and interacts with doctors.

Other large drugmakers, including Eli Lilly and Co, have recently begun publishing payments to doctors on their websites. But Neese said its disclosures go beyond those recently established by other companies, in that they include payments for clinical trial research, Neese said.

Pfizer said its payment disclosures will become more detailed a year from now, under a corporate integrity agreement with federal health authorities related to the drugmaker’s $2.3 billion fine and settlement last summer.

The company will then, on a quarterly basis, include the value of all financial interactions, including those below $25, and non-monetary items such as educational items.

Pfizer in September was slapped with the huge fine by the U.S. government after being deemed a repeat offender in pitching its now-withdrawn Bextra arthritis drug and another dozen medicines to patients and doctors for unapproved uses.

Pfizer pleaded guilty in 2004 to an earlier criminal charge of improper sales tactics and its practices have been under U.S. supervision since then.

Speaking engagements, in which doctors are paid by drugmakers to discuss their medicines with groups of other physicians, have been among the most controversial industry marketing practices.

By law, companies are forbidden to promote their drugs for uses not cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. But some companies allegedly have greatly boosted prescriptions for their drugs by allowing or encouraging paid speakers to discuss such “off-label” use of their products.

Pfizer’s chief medical officer, Freda Lewis-Hall, on Wednesday defended company-paid speakers, saying they allowed practicing physicians to convey their knowledge to other doctors and to answer their questions.

“We work very hard to make sure our speakers have the full range of data and information we have, and that they share it appropriately,” Lewis-Hall said.

Reporting by Bill Berkrot, Ransdell Pierson and Lewis Krauskopf, editing by Leslie Gevirtz, Bernard Orr