Drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline will stop paying for doctors to attend medical conferences and scrap some sales targets as it seeks to mend its reputation in the wake of a damaging scandal over multimillion-euro bribery claims in China.
Chief executive Sir Andrew Witty said the changes were about putting the needs of patients first and “meeting the wider expectations of society” though he did not link them to the allegations.
Glaxo said it would stop the practice of paying for healthcare professionals to speak on its behalf about products or diseases to audiences who can prescribe or influence prescribing, as well as no longer funding individuals to attend conferences.
Instead it will pay for independent grants to “support fair, balanced and objective medical education” for healthcare professionals, with the changes expected to be in place across the business by 2016.
It will also continue to pay fees to doctors for Glaxo-sponsored clinical research, advisory activities and market research.
Meanwhile, it will abandon individual targets for its sales staff who “work directly with prescribing healthcare professionals” and instead use reward criteria such as technical knowledge, quality of service and the overall performance of the business.
These changes will begin to take effect in January with the new system expected to be in place by early 2015.
The UK-based group is under pressure to repair its reputation after executives were accused of involvement in a scheme to funnel as much as £324 million through travel agencies and consultancies to bribe doctors and health officials in China.
Glaxo has expressed regret over the “shameful” alleged practices, which emerged in the summer, and were said to have been carried out in order to boost sales and raise the price of medicines.
Last year it was fined £1.9 billion to settle the largest healthcare fraud in US history as it admitted mis-promoting two medicines – including trying to persuade doctors to prescribe an anti-depressant drug to children that was not intended for under-18s.
Sir Andrew said the new measures were designed to provide “greater clarity and confidence that whenever we talk to a doctor, nurse or other prescriber, it is patients’ interests that always come first”.
“We recognise that we have an important role to play in providing doctors with information about our medicines, but this must be done clearly, transparently and without any perception of conflict of interest,” he said.
Glaxo stressed that the reforms were part of a broader long-term approach rather than being directly provoked by the scandal in China, and built on steps it had already taken to operate more openly and transparently
It said changes to a more patient-focused approach to sales had already been introduced successfully in the US in 2011.