Compliance Alert: Speaker fees are often toxic
Wednesday, January 4, 2017 at 8:28AM
Richard L. Cassin in AstraZeneca, Daiichi Sankyo, Forest Laboratories, GSK, Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, NuVasive, Speaker Fees

Last month Forest Labs paid $38 million to settle allegations it paid doctors speaker fees for sometimes phony events so they would prescribe its drugs. It was the latest in a string of "speaker fee" cases.

Between 2008 and 2011, the pharma allegedly paid doctors fees that ranged from $500 to $2,500 per event. Some doctors were paid when the speaking events didn't happen or no licensed health professionals attended, the DOJ said.

Forest Labs settled the False Claims Act case without admitting liability.

Here are some other cases with allegations of illegal speaker fees:

In September this year, GSK paid the SEC $20 million to settle China FCPA violations. The SEC said GSK China spent about $17 million on speaker fees in 2012. At least $2 million of that amount was paid to people whose healthcare qualifications couldn't be verified.

Earlier this year, AstraZeneca paid the SEC $5.5 million to resolve FCPA offenses in Russia and China. The China staff paid "speaker fees" to doctors reflected in documentation "containing no meeting date, venue, subject or fees associated with the particular speaker event," the SEC said.

In August last year, medical device maker NuVasive Inc. agreed to pay the United States $13.5 million to resolve allegations that it paid kickbacks to induce doctors to use the company’s spinal fusion system. The alleged illegal payments included promotional speaker fees.

In January 2015, global pharma Daiichi Sankyo Inc. paid the United States and state Medicaid programs $39 million to resolve allegations that it paid kickbacks to doctors so they would prescribe the company's drugs. The DOJ alleged that Daiichi paid doctors kickbacks in the form of speaker fees from 2005 through 2011. Payments went to doctors even when they spoke only to their own staffs at expensive Daiichi-paid dinners, the DOJ alleged.

In 2013, Johnson & Johnson paid $2.2 billion to resolve criminal and civil claims arising from allegations of kickbacks to U.S. doctors and improper marketing claims about three of its prescription drugs. The DOJ alleged that a J&J subsidiary, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, paid speaker fees to doctors to influence them to write prescriptions for Risperdal.

In 2010, Novartis paid $237.5 million to resolve civil allegations over kickbacks paid to doctors to prescribe six of the company's drugs. Novartis allegedly paid doctors "honoraria" of between $1,500 and $2,000 to speak at physician "events" about the benefits of Novartis' drugs. Some doctors earned as much as $150,000 a year in honoraria. In 2007 alone, Novartis paid $9.5 million to doctors through its speakers bureau. Many of the doctors selected as speakers had no publications or teaching positions.

Several speakers, the civil complaint against Novartis alleged, "had difficulty with English. Other speakers were simply very poor communicators." Physician attendance at the "events" was sparse -- often just one or two other doctors. The venues were sometimes tables at restaurants, during the dinner hour, although the DOJ alleged that Novartis never really checked who attended or where the events were held.


Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog.

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