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Pharma Group Issues Guidelines

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NEW YORK Those free promotional drug company pens that litter the desk of your doctor's office could possibly become rare collectibles.

PhRMA, the drug industry's trade and lobbying group, today unveiled a set of guidelines that restrict sales reps from giving gifts -- such as food, pens, coffee mugs and trips to fancy resorts -- to doctors.

More importantly, the new rules, which strip certain weapons from sales reps' promotional armory, could shift the balance of influence within drug companies away from sales forces toward marketing chiefs. (The influence of sales reps already is in long-term decline, as marketers increasingly look to the Web and consumer advertising for clout with doctors and patients.)

And -- like PhRMA's previous rules for both drug reps and drug advertisers -- the new guidelines come laden with loopholes, vague standards and "get-out" clauses.

The new rules seek to end a problem that has bedeviled pharmaceutical marketers for years: The negative image of the drug rep, armed with pizza and restaurant gift certificates, inviting a prescribing physician out for a golf game. Critics have bemoaned the gifts as bribes that sway doctors from the interest of their patients.

"There have been huge concerns about gifts," said PhRMA CEO Billy Tauzin. "We've eliminated them."

The 36-page document has 15 main rules, which go into effect in January 2009. The main changes are:

-- A complete ban on free meals for doctors when the meals have no educational value.
-- A complete ban on taking doctors to entertainment or recreational events, such as golf and baseball games.
-- A complete ban on noneducational gifts, such as pens and coffee mugs.
-- But companies may continue paying cash to doctors as speakers or "consultants."

Companies that sign on to the guidelines must promise that their CEOs will certify annually that employees abide by the code, and that their sales reps' practices will be audited at least once every three years.

Eli Lilly, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca and Pfizer all said they backed the code.

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