Monday, September 21, 2009

GlaxoSmithKline Stops CME Grants to MECCs

In another piece of good news for patient care, GlaxoSmithKline has announced that they are clamping down on funding continuing medical education programs. According to their press release, "GSK will no longer fund CME by commercial providers including medical education and communication companies (MECCs)." The new policy takes effect immediately.

The company says that it will cut down drastically on the number of organizations receiving CME grants, to only about 20 academic centers that meet their criteria of having a "track record of developing and delivering high quality medical education programs that have a measurable impact on improved patient health." I asked GSK for a list of the favored 20, as well as exactly what their criteria for CME excellence are, but I have not yet heard back.

GSK posts their educational and charitable grants on the web. You can read the grants from the first and second quarter of 2009
here. I went through the Q2 grants and found that it's pretty hard to tell which are CME grants and which are patient advocacy or charitable grants. But I estimated that in the 2nd quarter of 2009, GSK made CME grants to about 90 organizations, and about 20 (22%) of these are MECCs. While this implies that cutting out MECCs is not a big deal, in fact the MECCs are the big money hogs of the bunch. MECCs received by far the largest grants, including Pri-Med Institute ($658,000), Research to Practice ($540,000), Discovery Communications LLC ($420,000), and Physician Education Resource Group LP ($363,000). MECCs are great at sponging up lots of cash from drug companies, because they have no other business plan. Some of the money goes to physicians who give lectures, but much more is sheer profit, padding the pockets of MECC executives.

Thus, cutting out MECCs will presumably save GSK a lot of money and save doctors from getting pounded over the head with the redundant marketing messages MECC-produced CME excels at.

Some of you may recall that Pfizer announced a similar policy change over a year ago. You can read coverage of Pfizer's decision in this
Medical Meetings article and in my blog post. While I applauded Pfizer's decision I also noted that their policy left the door open for eligible providers to co-sponsor programs with MECCs, a rather giant loophole that lead to problems with a huge $12.3 million anti-smoking initiative the company funded. Pfizer funded University of Wisconsin to coordinate the project, but allowed UW to work jointly with a few MECCs, including CME Enterprises. The result was that the CME program was biased in favor of Pfizer's Chantix, as detailed in this article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Nobody knows whether GSK will allow a similar loophole. Let's hope not.


Anonymous said...

Um, hate to burst your bubble--perhaps you are unaware that the so-called "independent" providers of CME such as universities and medical associations typically farm out the creation of CME programs to MECCs. In addition, the doctors at these organizations and schools that will "author" the programs are likely to be consultants, lecturers etc for pharma companies. This is purely a ploy on Pfizers part that is going to result in very little substantial change, just a change in appearances.

Daniel Carlat said...

Thanks for the needed clarification--actually I posted on just this issue on Sept 24.