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Transparency in the Australian pharmaceutical industry Posted 11/11/2016

In Australia, the promotion of medicines to healthcare professionals is controlled by self-regulatory schemes operated by the pharmaceutical industry.

In order to promote transparency about payments to healthcare professionals, Medicines Australia’s Code of Conduct Edition 18, which came into effect on 16 May 2015, includes requirements for member companies to report payments and ‘transfers of value’ to individual healthcare professionals. The types of payments that are required to be reported include speaker’s fees, consultancy fees, sponsorship to attend educational events, advisory board fees and market research fees. From 1 October 2016, reporting these payments or ‘transfers of value’ will become mandatory. They will be publicly reported and it will no longer be possible to opt out of disclosure.

However, while accepting that transparency is good, Agnes Vitry, Senior Lecturer at the School of Pharmacy and Medical Sciences of the University of South Australia, questions whether independence from the pharmaceutical industry is better [1]. Ms Vitry also states that the pharmaceutical industry only ‘reluctantly’ accepted these new transparency requirements after longstanding campaigns by medical and consumer organizations and pressure from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

One problem with the ‘public disclosure’ of payment information is that, although from August 2016 data should be available on each individual company’s website, there will be no centralized database. The ACCC has, however, requested that Medicines Australia develop and implement a centralized database.

Some unsatisfactory points with the code of conduct, according to Ms Vitry, are that not all payments have to be reported, including:

  • Hospitality costs under US$120
  • Support for professional development
  • Sponsorship of national or international conferences
  • Grants through third parties
  • Payments for research work, including clinical trials

Ms Vitry is also concerned that the ‘transparency provisions do not apply to pharmaceutical companies that are not members of Medicines Australia’. For example, the Generic and Biosimilar Medicines Association (GBMA), which represents generics and biosimilars makers in Australia, ‘has opted out of the ACCC Code authorization’ and has also ‘removed the requirement for members to report on educational events and non-price benefits, such as access to training events or patient information sheets’. She also points out that ‘in 2014−2015 the GBMA spent more than US$2.2 million on non-price benefits to pharmacists and over US$300,000 on educational events’. This ‘backward step’, according to Ms Vitry, ‘is a real concern as the generics and biosimilars market is growing rapidly in Australia’.

Ms Vitry concludes that ‘transparency is good but independence from pharmaceutical industry is better for the health of patients and the healthcare system’.

Conflict of interest
The author of the research paper [1] declared that there was no conflict of interest.

1. Vitry A. Transparency is good, independence from pharmaceutical industry is better! Aust Prescr. 2016;39:112-31.

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