The debate about medical ghosting has focused on the U.S. market. But could the DOJ and SEC now be looking at the practice overseas, where it might violate the FCPA?
Main Justice reported that in April, the DOJ and SEC sent letters to AstraZeneca PLC, Baxter International Inc., Eli Lilly & Co., and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. The letters asked about business practices in Brazil, China, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Russia, and Saudi Arabia.
Medical ghosting works like this. Drug companies hire outside firms to draft articles touting a drug, then retain a doctor or scientist to sign off as the author. The drug company then finds a publisher, who doesn’t know the article was written by someone other than the person who signed it.
Doctors and scientists eagerly participate because publication credit increases their prestige and professional standing. And the drug-companies use the medical journal articles as “independent” proof that their drugs are safe and effective.
A Senate report released last month and quoted in the New York Times said: “Manipulation of medical literature could lead physicians to prescribe drugs that are more costly or may even harm patients.”
The FCPA’s antibribery provisions prohibit among other things (1) the giving of anything of value (2) to a foreign official (3) to obtain or retain business. See, e.g., 15 U.S.C. §78dd-1(a) [Section 30A of the Securities & Exchange Act of 1934].
Ghosting has those elements. Giving a doctor or scientist an unsigned manuscript for publication has real value. Doctors and scientists working in government-owned or managed hospitals overseas are “foreign officials” under the FCPA. And articles appearing to independently endorse a drug help its manufacturer obtain or retain business.
We don’t know if medical ghosting will figure in any FCPA-related investigations of the drug companies. But it could.