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GSK to reverse ‘no KOLs’ policy, admitting it has hit marketing

Company seeking to revive lacklustre marketing performance

GlaxoSmithKline is to reverse its ban on paying healthcare professionals and key opinion leaders (KOLs), admitting that the policy has hit awareness of its products in the market.

The company’s then-CEO Andrew Witty introduced the measures in 2013, amid growing concern about pharma unduly influencing healthcare professionals and broader marketing misconduct. This included a $3bn fine imposed on GSK after it was caught promoting Advair off-label in the US, with a corporate integrity agreement imposed on it by US regulators.

GSK then sought to go above and beyond industry standards, and stopped paying healthcare professionals (HCPs) to speak about its products or disease areas, instead relying purely on its own clinical experts in order to prevent any hint of inappropriate influence.

But five years on, GSK says its unilateral move is to be reversed.

Announcing the change of heart, the company commented: “GSK is the only company to have taken this approach and other companies continue to compensate HCPs when sharing data and talking about clinical experience. The effect of this has been that our educational programmes have not been as widely available, or seen as compelling to HCPs, compared to other company programmes."

It concluded: “We believe this has led to a reduced understanding of our products and is, ultimately, restricting patients’ access to truly innovative medicines and vaccines.”

GSK says it will now return to paying the going rate for KOLs to speak about the science behind some of its products and related disease areas in congresses, satellite symposia programmes and webinars.

It will also return to paying travel costs for HCPs to attend GSK’s own standalone meetings (except in the US) and registration fees for remote congress webinars. However it will maintain its ban on not sponsoring doctors to attend local and international conferences.

The company says the changes will apply for a period of two years from marketing authorisation of a new medicine or vaccine, and for 12 months following significant new data - the period in which HCPs have the greatest need to know about new products.

The changes will be applied first to select products in the US and Japan from this month, then rolled out to Europe, North America and Asia from 2019 if it proves successful.

The reversal of the failed policy clearly reflects new CEO Emma Walmsley’s determination to improve GSK’s performance in marketing new products, which has been lacklustre in recent years.

Since taking over in April 2017, Walmsley has overseen a root and branch change in senior management, bringing in Luke Miels as its new commercial head, and promoting Kate Knobil internally after Murray Stewart, GSK's chief medical officer, left the company a year ago.

Kate Knobil

Chief medical officer Kate Knobil

“Sharing the latest clinical data with healthcare professionals is key to bringing important medical innovations to patients. We will do more to help HCPs improve their knowledge of the potential benefits of our medicines and vaccines to patients, but we also understand this must be carried out clearly and without any perception of conflict of interest." Kate Knobil, Chief Medical Officer, GSK.

This issue remains as sensitive as ever. One of the world’s most eminent oncology research leaders Dr. Jose Baselga resigned in September after The New York Times and ProPublica found that he had not fully disclosed his financial ties to companies including Roche in dozens of articles he wrote for medical journals.

Nevertheless, GSK will be keen to restore links with key opinion leaders, especially as it has a number of recent launches it needs to raise awareness about, including respiratory drug Trelegy, shingles vaccine Shingrix and HIV treatment Juluca.

Article by
Andrew McConaghie

3rd October 2018

From: Marketing

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