Pfizer plans to publicly report payments made to clinical investigators, physicians and other healthcare professionals by early next year, making it the first pharmaceutical company to commit to disclosing payments it makes for conducting clinical trials, speaking and consulting.
The company plans to publish an annual online update of payments beginning in early 2010 and will include all payments made beginning July 1, 2009. The report will include payments exceeding $500 made to practicing healthcare providers who prescribe medicines, major institutions conducting clinical trials, and all principal investigators for Pfizer-sponsored phase I to IV clinical trials, as well as non-monetary items such as meals that cost more than $25.
“We are committed to taking the steps necessary to achieve greater transparency in our interactions with U.S. healthcare professionals,” said Pfizer chairman and CEO Jeffrey Kindler in a company statement.
Many industry experts have lauded the move by Pfizer, saying it is the first move toward full transparency in the clinical trial industry, but others are more skeptical.
“The more you get consolidation, the more you have concentration of power. It means the industry can start to dictate terms to those running the clinical trials—the CROs. That makes me nervous because you’re getting more and more concentrated power in the hands of a small number of mega-pharmaceuticals,” said Arthur Caplan, Ph.D., director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania.
Although Caplan supports Pfizer’s efforts, he argues that there needs to be consistency in the disclosure process to make it enforceable and feasible for all drugmakers—large and small.
“You don’t want to have 10 companies doing it 10 different ways with little companies not doing it at all. You’ve got to really make sure everyone’s on board,” Caplan said.
The Physician Payment Sunshine Act, a bill introduced in 2007 requiring drug makers and medical device manufacturers to disclose all payments over $100, would bring that consistency but has not yet become law. While some industry experts have expressed hope that Pfizer’s move will speed the bill’s passage into law, Caplan said it may have the opposite effect.
“Ironically, it’s easier to get legislation put in when the group you’re trying to regulate is fighting you tooth and nail. When they’re making sort of conciliatory sounds, that usually is enough to take the starch out of the legislative effort,” he said.
Regardless of the status of the Sunshine Act, Pfizer’s actions will undoubtedly impact the industry, Caplan said, by pushing other big pharma to create similar policies.
“I think at the end of the day, what people are going to realize is that what you get paid by outside parties is going to become known. That’s going to discourage certain types of arrangements, which I think don’t pass the headline test,” he said.