Drug companies hosting lavish seminars for doctors

By Adam Cresswell

Herald Sun

March 28, 2009 

  • Drug companies spending $300,000 on events
  • Sponsor educational events
  • But criticised as over the top
DRUGMAKERS are under fire for "profoundly excessive" spending on educational events for doctors that include weekends costing over $300,000 at five-star hotels.

Despite a ban on "lavish" hospitality, the latest six-monthly report by the drug industry’s peak body, Medicines Australia, shows a significant number of the educational events cost the sponsoring companies six-figure sums, The Australian reports.

In one case, drug giant Pfizer – the maker of anti-impotence drug Viagra – spent $206,155 last July putting up nearly 200 doctors at Sydney’s five-star Sheraton on The Park to tell them about erectile dysfunction in diabetes patients.

The cost, which equates to $1057 per person, covered 10 hours of educational content, accommodation for 168 doctors, air travel for 19, transfers for 75 and dinner and parking for 195.

In another case, Pfizer spent $291,916 to host 210 doctors at the Crowne Plaza at Surfers Paradise for a nine-hour "cardiovascular forum", equal to $1390 per head.

Some of the highest per-capita spending was racked up by Merck Sharp & Dohme, which spent $337,169 to put up 136 hormone specialists at the Westin Hotel in Sydney ($2479 per head), and Schering-Plough, which spent $311,599 to host just 75 rheumatologists at the Westin in Melbourne ($4154 per head).

AstraZeneca spent $22,052 on flights and accommodation for 38 GPs at the Shangri-La Hotel in Cairns, which claims on its website that it "sets the standard for contemporary luxury and service in one of Australia’s most beautiful seaside destinations".

The report is the third six-monthly breakdown of the details of seminars, conferences and other educational meetings funded by drug companies since the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission forced the industry to be more transparent about its spending in 2007.

The report shows the number of events has risen fast to 18,060, up 23.4 per cent on the same time of last year.

The number of doctors attending also rose, by 15.4 per cent from 385,221 to 444,724. The average cost of events per person fell, from $80.50 to $67.67.

Drug companies last night defended the spending, but Ian Kerridge, associate professor in bioethics at the Centre for Values, Ethics & Law in Medicine at the Sydney University, said the sums involved were "profoundly excessive" and the system of self-disclosure had failed to impose restraint.

"They are all fairly swanky events, fully catered – I had three invitations this week, all offering airfares and accommodation for a weekend in Melbourne or the Gold Coast," said Associate Professor Kerridge, who is also a haematologist at Sydney’s Westmead Hospital.

"It does raise questions about the adequacy of these (Medicines Australia) processes."


Source: Herald Sun Melbourne, 28 March 2009


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