GlaxoSmithKline will stop paying doctors for promoting its drugs and scrap prescription targets for its marketing staff - a first for an industry battling scandals over its sales practices, and a challenge for its peers to follow suit.
Britain's biggest drugmaker also said on Tuesday it would stop payments to healthcare professionals for attending medical conferences as it tries to persuade critics it is addressing conflicts of interest that could put commercial interests ahead of the best outcome for patients.
The move may force other companies to act, since the entire drugs industry has been under fire for aggressive marketing tactics in recent years.
"Where GSK leads we must hope that other companies will follow," Fiona Godlee, editor of the British Medical Journal and an influential campaigner against undue industry influence in medical practice, told Reuters.
"But there is a long way to go if we are to truly to extricate medicine from commercial influence. Doctors and their societies have been too ready to compromise themselves."
GlaxoSmithKline's move comes amid a major bribery investigation in China, where police have accused it of funnelling up to 3 billion yuan ($494 million) to travel agencies to facilitate bribes to boost its drug sales.
However, the company said the measures were not directly related to its Chinese problems and were rather part of a broad effort to improve transparency.
In the United States, the industry's biggest market by far, many companies have run into conflicts over improper sales tactics and GSK reached a record $3-billion settlement with the U.S. government last year over charges that it provided misleading information on certain drugs.
A number of other firms have taken some steps to clean up their marketing practices and companies are being forced to disclose payments to doctors under U.S. healthcare law.
Similar laws requiring firms to make public the names of doctors they have paid will take effect in Europe from the start of 2016.
"This will undoubtedly change behaviour and trigger a re-think of how some forms of continuing medical education are organised and funded," said Richard Bergstrom, director general of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations.
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