Two years ago, Amgen was worried about increased competition in the psoriasis market for its Enbrel medication. And the biotech has since been accused by former sales reps of encouraging variousimproper activities to boost prescriptions - reps were allegedly told to pull patient files from doctors' office, orchestrate letter-writing campaigns to patients and insurers, and organize and attend patient outreach seminars.
In their complaints, the former sales reps say these efforts raised questions about off-label marketing and patient privacy. Meanwhile, one doctor banned Amgen from his clinic after being upset by a sales call from a district manager. The allegations are now being looked at by the New Jersey attorney general, the Florida attorney general and the US Senate Finance Committee.
Now, another alleged example of crossing a line has been brought to our attention. The accompanying e-mail is from the same district sales manager, and here she wrote to two Amgen regional medical liaisons about the Enbrel sales effort. For those unfamiliar with medical liaisons, these are the pharma employees who are supposed to help train sales reps about the science behind the drugs, champion investigator-initiated research and field queries from doctors, who may ask questions about topics that sales reps aren't permitted to discuss, such as unapproved uses of meds.
The e-mail, though, suggests the district manager viewed the medical liaisons differently. As you can see, the district manager appears to be trying to pull them into the sales orbit - besides providing specific updates on new scrips written by two particular docs, she wants to "work together to blunt" the competition, in this case, the Humira med sold by Abbott Labs, and set up a "brief conference call." Medical liaisons are viewed as a support function, but direct involvement in the sales effort is generally considered a no-no. This is the sort of overture that should be avoided.
One of the liaisons didn't respond to a message and the other couldn't be reached. An Amgen spokeswoman declined to comment on the e-mail specifically, citing the litigation. She did offer the same statement we have received previously when asking about Amgen's marketing policies: "Amgen expects all staff to behave in a responsible and principled way. These expectations are detailed in our Code of Conduct, titled 'Do the Right Thing,' which includes: specific instructions with respect to proper promotion of Amgen products; guidelines for safeguarding confidential patient information; and channels for reporting violations of these policies. Our sales creed emphasizes that Amgen sales representatives follow compliance guidelines with absolute consistency."