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ATTN PHARMA – GSK rolls out code for ethical marketing #medicalethics

Mumbai: Faced with charges of unethical marketing practices which have long tarnished its image and reputation, the pharmaceutical industry is trying to clean up its act. In one of the first such attempts, GlaxoSmithKline has rolled out a new healthcare marketing code covering doctors and its field staff, Annaswamy Vaidheesh, vice-president, South Asia & managing director of GSK Pharmaceuticals India, told TOI in an exclusive interview.

Under the policy, the company has withdrawn target-linked incentives for its 3,000-strong sales force, and stopped direct payments to doctors for speaking engagements, he said, adding the company has also put in place an “aggressive growth model to get back being one of the fastest growing MNCs in India by 2020”.

The policy, for an industry which faces charges of unethical marketing practices and poor public perception, was adopted by the company globally last year.

In India, the company initiated the ‘Patient Focused Selling’ programme, involving withdrawal of sales incentives, as a pilot project last year, while the model is being rolled out this year, said Vaidheesh, who completes a year in office next month.

The marketing code for healthcare professionals (HCPs) is also being introduced this year, with the company strengthening its medical capability by hiring over 25 doctors across specialities, who will engage with their external peers and answer queries regarding the company’s drugs at medical seminars.

Payments are made to physicians by pharma companies for speaking engagements to promote their products – this job will now be done by its in-house team of doctors at GSK.

“These steps will introduce more transparency into our marketing and educational efforts, help physicians to make informed choices, and clear the mistrust which patients have,” he said, hoping others in the industry follow suit.

Under the ‘Patient Focused Selling’ programme, the company will evaluate its salesforce on scientific knowledge, technical skills and customer evaluations, rather than meeting sales targets. The company is investing in a new-age business model and will leverage digital capability to improve delivery of information to HCPs and doctors. Under the ‘Veeva’ platform, information will be shared with sales staff in a more systematic and consistent manner.

“Given the new environment in India, we are re-engineering the business model in a way that we are able to maintain margins but at the same time deliver value of relevance to our stakeholders – physicians, hospitals and the government. We are coming out from supply constraints, and are on a recovery path with 12-13% growth recorded in the last two quarters,” he said. Once a market leader, the Rs 2,800-crore company has now trailed behind industry peers, recording a poor 3% sales growth in the year ended March 2016.

GSK is also test-marketing with a software company in a rural setting to improve access of healthcare in remote areas. The company has also implemented pricing strategies for certain life-saving medicines and vaccines in order to ensure broader access, he said. For example, due to the fact that pneumonia is the greatest cause of infant mortality in India, the company lowered the price of Synflorix vaccine by 40% in order to ensure more children are able to benefit from it.

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