Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Pharmaceutical Industry

Mea culpa: are multi-billion dollar fines forcing drug companies to clean up their act?

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 18 July 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e4865
  1. Andrew Jack, pharmaceuticals correspondent, Financial Times
  1. andrew.jack{at}

As GlaxoSmithKline is fined $3bn for illegal promotion of prescription drugs and other breaches, Andrew Jack asks if the heyday of such aggressive marketing practices has passed

Anyone seeking insights into the aggressive marketing of drugs to doctors over the past two decades should take a look at the court filings released earlier this month, when GlaxoSmithKline agreed a record $3bn (£1.9bn; €2.4bn) fine with US regulators.1

One exhibit2 shows the company’s $29m promotional operating plan for Advair (fluticasone and salmeterol), its bestselling asthma product, in 2003. It includes nearly $2.5m for continuing education and articles in the medical literature “to educate healthcare professionals,” $3.4m for “detail aids, sell sheets and reprints,” and $643 000 for “mouse pads, stress relievers, clipboard, candy jars, calendars, and pens.”

There is $3.5m to train key opinion leaders “to deliver presentations designed to educate healthcare professionals,” $800 000 for “physician mapping” to “determine the networks of influence that exist among prescribers,” and $1.4m in the second semester of that year alone for regional dinner programmes for key opinion leaders.

Elsewhere, documents3 covering a range of drugs led by the …

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