AstraZeneca stops flying doctors to international conferences

    Drug company AstraZeneca has announced it will stop paying for doctors to attend international medical and scientific conferences.

    The first-of-it’s kind move comes in the midst of increased government regulation and scrutiny of payments to doctors.

    Pharmaceutical industry analyst Elio Evangelista sees the move a continuation of the increased transparency among pharma companies, which he says started with voluntary disclosures of speakers fees about a decade ago.

    “Compliance has become in the last three to five years a very big focus for the drug and device industry,” Evangelista said. “This may not be a blanket policy, but it’s an interesting trend that I’m sure many companies are watching.”

    In a speech earlier this month, AstraZeneca CEO David Brennan cited public distrust of pharmaceutical companies and billions of dollars in penalties companies have paid to the U.S. government as reasons for the change. It’s part of a goal to avoid “anything that can be perceived as an inappropriate inducement for healthcare professionals,” Brennan said.

    Dr. Sidney Wolfe, from a the Washington D.C.-based consumer watchdog group Public Citizen, says the move is a step in the right direction, although he sees fees for speaking engagements and consultation as a bigger problem.

    “It’s admirable that they’re stopping it but it hardly addresses the larger issue of the extent to which they de facto end up bribing doctors,” Wolfe said.

    A ProPublica investigation tracking these speakers fees at eight big pharma companies found AstraZeneca paid doctors almost $23 million in 2009 and 2010.

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