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As the pharmaceutical industry continues to impact the lives of patients all over the world, it remains one of the most crucial industries that face public scrutiny and pressure to adhere to the best transparency practices possible.

To ensure ethical practice in the promotion of new therapies to healthcare professionals (HCPs), governments in the US and Europe have tightened regulations to ensure that companies foster a culture of compliance and transparency. Now, it’s time for the Middle East countries to implement similar regulations to build stronger public trust towards this industry.

Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is taking the Lead

The Saudi Food & Drug Authority (SFDA) is currently working on a decree requiring Pharmaceutical companies to report all kinds of payments to any healthcare professional or organization. With sincere efforts to take all stakeholders’ input into consideration, SFDA invited HCPs, all pharmaceutical companies, and different public groups to send their comments and ideas to the assigned committee in order to come up with the best reporting format that would satisfy everybody’s needs.

Aligning with a Global Practice that is Paying Back

The US Physician Payment Sunshine Act along with The European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) Disclosure Code are requiring pharmaceutical companies to keep records of every speaker fee, travel expense, and sponsorship paid to a healthcare organization or professional. Pharmaceutical companies must disclose these records, either on their own websites or through reporting on a centralized database.

There was some trepidation as to the potential negative impact that such openness would create. However, as these data rolled out, it became clear that the vast majority of payments to physicians, roughly 80%, are for the discovery and development of new medicines. All payments to doctors are now available, not just for R&D but also those for meals, speaking fees, and consulting. With the majority of payments being made for critical clinical work, the public has to acknowledge that such payments are indeed justified. This transparency did result in concerns voiced by some, including those who believe that physicians should not receive any payments from pharmaceutical companies as these exert undue influence on prescribing practices. However, this transparency eliminated the “behind the curtain” view of company payments to doctors.

Barriers Vs Opportunities

In the Middle East Region, as most of the companies reporting and administrative outdated systems don’t allow for detailed collection of this data in a friendly format, they expect to struggle to provide the needed tracking. The foreseen benefit of building public trust might not be perceived as a “strong enough” reason to make huge investments in building reporting infrastructures in addition to introducing the new way of reporting payments to Physicians & HCPs.

However pharmaceutical companies cannot overlook the opportunity that this transparency reporting will provide by giving them valuable marketing insight which will allow them to better understand their spending related to HCP relationships.

The Path Forward

We foresee the Payment & Activity Transparency reporting as a great opportunity for Pharmaceutical companies to allocate their resources according to the real needs of the HCPs and HCOs. This would advance the relation to a more collaborative/inclusive one while fostering a positive public reputation that ensures that they have nothing to hide.

We believe once Kingdom of Saudi Arabia takes the lead, all Middle East countries should use the opportunity to enforce similar regulations. Pharmaceutical companies should also think about making the initiative even before regulator enforcement.

Mohamed Eltonsy, Marketing DirectorMenamark Middle East

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