GSK, facing bribery claims, battles to build new sales model

Thu Apr 17, 2014 6:42am EDT
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By Ben Hirschler

LONDON (Reuters) - Drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline (GSK.L: Quote) - hit by bribery claims in five countries - is to employ hundreds more doctors as members of staff as it seeks to build a new sales model designed to eliminate sharp marketing practices.

Following a decision to cut commercial ties with outside doctors, GSK expects to increase its in-house team of physicians by 10-20 percent over the next year or so from around 1,500 at present, Chief Medical Officer James Shannon told Reuters.

Leaders of Britain's biggest drugmaker believe they have a blueprint that will put GSK ahead of rivals when it comes to ethical behavior - but the company keeps getting knocked back by allegations of past corrupt practices.

GSK is now investigating claims that bribes were paid to doctors in Poland, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, following a much larger case of alleged bribery in China.

Chinese authorities in July accused GSK of funneling up to 3 billion yuan ($483 million) to doctors and officials to encourage them to use its medicines in a case that the company has described as "shameful".

Shannon, the man charged with overhauling relations with the medical community, admits that changing fundamentally the way GSK interacts with doctors will require "a lot of work".

The firm aims to become the first in the industry to stop paying outside doctors to promote its products, end payments for medics to attend conferences and delink incentives for sales representatives from individual sales targets.

It won't be easy. A key challenge in the process, which is due to be completed by 2016, is how to make the transition without ceding business to rivals in the $1 trillion-a-year drugs industry.   Continued...

The GlaxoSmithKline building is pictured in Hounslow, west London June 18, 2013. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor