Pharma Executive Threatens Pull-Out if Massachusetts Enacts Ban of Industry Gifts to Doctors

We often post about conflicts of interest affecting physicians, other health care professionals, and generally those who make decisions about health care. A rather bizarre kerfuffle has developed in Massachusetts over a proposed legislative ban of gifts by pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms to doctors.

As first reported in the Boston Herald (but full article no longer available online):

Taking aim at Senate President Therese Murray’s proposed ban on drug firms’ gifts to doctors, the head of GlaxoSmithKline’s U.S. operations is accusing Massachusetts of a 'strong anti-biopharmaceutical streak' and bemoaning attempts to 'attack and demonize' the industry.

Christopher A. Viehbacher, president of U.S. pharmaceuticals for the British-based Glaxo, sent harshly worded letters earlier this week to Murray, Gov. Deval Patrick and House Speaker Sal DiMasi, suggesting his firm might not invest as much in Massachusetts if 'political developments' work to 'devalue' its assets here.

Viehbacher said the gift-ban provision would make Massachusetts 'the most hostile state in the nation when it comes to biopharmaceutical sales.'

Similarly, an AP article (available via Forbes) noted:

To hear the industry tell it, the Free World would lose access to the Band-Aid if that were to happen.

'Strictly interpreted, the `anything-of-value' ban could bring clinical trials to a halt in Massachusetts, severely cut into necessary and mandated continuing educational studies undertaken by physicians and mean that fewer new medicines are readily available to patients in the state that is the global hub of medical innovation,' the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council wrote in a May 1 letter to state legislators.

BIO, the Biotechnology Industry Organization, wrote DiMasi on April 30 that 'the gift-ban provision threatens research and treatment for patients in the commonwealth.'


Sen. Mark Montigny, who authored the gift-ban provision, said the legislation would not harm medical research, and the Life Sciences Initiative itself is proof the state is not opposed to the biopharmaceutical industry. The bill also expressly allows for doctors to continue receiving free drug samples from the manufacturers.

It's clear that some people in pharma and biotechnology are greatly opposed to any interference with their ability to give physicians pens, coffee mugs, free meals, etc. They failed to explain how in the world such gifts promote clinical trials, or are necessary for continuing medical education. That at least one company executive would stoop to threatening to take the company's business elsewhere suggests how important some leaders in pharma and biotech believe these gifts are. In the absence of any good argument that the gifts promote patient care, education or research, presumably what some company leaders really value is the gifts' marketing effects. However, that is all the more reason for physicians to rethink why they have been accepting such gifts.

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