An investigation by The Times newspaper has found that two of the UK stock market's biggest pharmaceutical companies have made millions in remuneration in “secret” payments to healthcare professionals and organisations.
The investigation found that at least £19.6 million (€22.3 million) was made in anonymous payments across Europe, including €17.9 million by the Cambridge-based company, Astrazenca, and €4.4 million by the rare diseases and neuroscience specialist, Shire. The total covers payments such as consultancy fees and “related expenses”, as well as travel and accommodation for events sponsored or organised by the companies.
The anonymous payments have been made despite a European self-regulatory code of conduct encouraging drugs companies to re-talk terms about contracts with professionals, such as health organisations and doctors in order to include consent to reveal details.
Ben Goldacre, director of the evidence-based medicine data lab at Oxford University, said the public “need to know if someone who praises a drug is getting money from the company”.
“The state has chosen not to invest in disseminating unbiased evidence to doctors. So industry has stepped into that gap. Doctors commonly turn to free ‘educational’ activities, delivered by ‘key opinion leaders’ paid by industry. I doubt there are many doctors who completely change their opinions about treatments in exchange for a cheque, but it’s a temptation that some cave in to.”