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Published on 19 June 2008

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Drug endorsement fees criticised

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Global drugs firms are operating outside the public interest by paying experts to endorse their products, according to a Harvard professor quoted in this month’s British Medical Journal.

David Blumenthal was responding to a report which claimed that some influential doctors earn more than GBP 12,000 a year in advisory fees, with companies paying them up to GBP 200 an hour to act as key opinion leaders.

The article by Ray Moynihan, from Australia’s University of Newcastle, sets out to expose the reality by interviewing industry insiders such as former sales representative Kimberly Elliot.

She told Mr Moynihan that drug companies rely on opinion leaders in order for doctors to believe what they are saying and prescribe their products. Key opinion leaders, she says, are essentially salespeople.

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry said that, although “the work might help to promote a particular medicine”, it should be considered payment for work done, and not a bribe.

But Professor Blumenthal said that payments to key opinion leaders are not in the public interest or in the interests of the patients, and called for a major cutback in industry influence over the medical profession and its education.

Copyright PA Business 2008

British Medical Journal

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