Senate Committee Probe of Educational Grants by Drug Firms Expands
A Senate Finance Committee investigation into educational grants awarded by pharmaceutical companies to physicians and groups that promote medications for unapproved uses has found the "payments are growing rapidly," the New York Times reports. According to the committee, 23 pharmaceutical companies in 2004 spent a combined $1.47 billion on educational grants, a 20% increase from 2003.
The committee this week began to send letters to a number of large pharmaceutical companies seeking information on their use of educational grants. In a letter sent on Monday to Johnson & Johnson, which served as the initial focus of the investigation, the committee said that information previously submitted about "efforts to promote the use of Propulsid in children raises additional questions." FDA has approved Propulsid, a heartburn medication, for use in adults.
Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said, "It's hard to see how you could call some of these grants 'educational.'"
Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), ranking member of the committee, added, "If drug companies are crossing the line with these grants and influencing providers to make treatment decisions they might not otherwise make, that's a problem, and we're going to tackle that."
Although FDA regulations have "long allowed drug companies to give educational grants to individuals or groups that discuss or promote off-label uses," federal prosecutors in recent years "have been investigating whether these activities have strayed beyond educational purposes and violated antikickback statutes or resulted in the government's spending money in its Medicare and Medicaid health programs for prescriptions that were not warranted," the Times reports.
More than half of all prescriptions written nationwide are for off-label uses, according to the Times (Harris, New York Times, 1/11).