AstraZeneca expands reporting of physician payments

AstraZeneca begins publishing additional information on payments made to US-based physicians and institutions.

Beginning this week, there is a significant addition to the AstraZeneca US website – a searchable database that discloses all payments and transfers of value to US-based physicians.

It includes consulting and speaker fees, modest meals and travel in association with contracted services or in conjunction with a product or informational discussion, educational items, pre-clinical or clinical research payments, royalties, license fees, and ownership or investment interests.

We include both direct payments to physicians, as well as payments made to entities related to a physician at the request of, or on behalf of, that physician. In addition, the database lists certain payments to physicians made through third-party entities, such as clinical research organizations, on behalf of AstraZeneca.

We also report payments to US-based medical and research institutions, hospitals, clinics and group practices for clinical and pre-clinical research. This includes both direct and indirect payments through a contract research organization or academic research organization.

Given that it this is a new undertaking by AstraZeneca, we posed a few questions to Marie Martino – AstraZeneca’s US compliance officer – about what we were disclosing and why.

Q: Why does AstraZeneca pay physicians and institutions?

Marie: We partner and collaborate with physicians and institutions as part of our responsibility to educate the healthcare community about the approved uses and the safety and efficacy of our medicines so they can provide the best care possible to patients. We also engage with institutions and physicians to conduct scientific and medical research.

Q: Why are you disclosing these payments?

Marie: AstraZeneca believes it is important to be open about how we conduct our business, and this new reporting expands on a major initiative announced three years ago to provide greater public visibility into how we do business. More information on what AstraZeneca is doing in this area can be found on our corporate website (link).

Q: What sorts of payments are being disclosed?

Marie: The report includes consulting fees, speaker fees, meals, travel, certain educational items, research payments, royalties and license fees, and ownership and investment interests.

Q: What time periods are covered?

Marie: Payments and transfers of value that took place in the second quarter of 2011 are included, and these reports will be updated quarterly. Because of delayed reconciliation for certain indirect payments involving third-party vendors, some payments and transfers of value may not be included until a later reporting cycle.

The speaker reports cover compensation to US-based physicians for speaker programs from January 2010 through March 2011.

Q: Why were certain physicians reimbursed for travel and meals?

Marie:  AstraZeneca reimburses physicians for reasonable meal and travel expenses incurred in connection with speaking, consulting or research engagements.

Q: What are research investigators and institutions being paid for?

Marie: We partner with institutions and investigators to conduct research to discover and develop new medicines. Research studies help us to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of potential medicines for patients who need better treatment options. Pharmaceutical companies contract with physicians and academic research centers to perform a variety of work that is critical to the development of new medicines and the sharing of medical information with the goal of improving patient care.

Doctors – who are on the front lines of patient care – also help to identify patients who might be appropriate for clinical trials or provide input to us on how our clinical trials can be designed.

Q: Why might an institution receive millions of dollars?

Marie:  We partner with institutions and investigators to conduct research to discover and develop new medicines for patients who need better treatment options. Bear in mind that when you look at the total payments to institutions, many of our large-scale investigational research trials entail multi-year contracts which are milestone driven.

Quite simply, this means that while certain dollar amounts may have been paid to an institution in a given quarter, the patient care, testing, and monitoring activities provided by that institution may span well beyond that quarter.