Doctors closing door on oncology drug reps, study says

Targeted cancer drugs are one of the great hopes for pharmaceutical companies, but a business survey says cancer doctors are limiting visits by sales representatives more than most medical specialists.

Whether this is good or bad depends, of course, on your perspective or how you make money.

ZS Associates, a global sales and marketing firm, published its spring 2012 AccessMonitor report this week and it says about 61 percent of oncologists placed moderate-to-severe restrictions on visits from pharmaceutical sales reps. The report says oncologists were the most restrictive of the 20 most common medical specialties measured. About 47 percent of cardiologists and 38 percent of primary care physicians restricted sales representative access to the same degree, according to the report.

ZS Associates says oncology is the fastest-growing specialty drug sector in the world and accounted for 10 percent of global pharmaceutical sales in 2011. About 1,000 oncology drugs in the pipeline — almost twice the number in any other field, ZS Associates says.

“Sales reps equip oncologists with data on evolving science, access to financial assistance for patients, and help with reimbursement support and patient support materials,” Ganesh Vedarajan, principal and leader of the oncology and specialty therapeutics practice at ZS Associates, said in a statement. “Regulatory constraints, however, are increasingly restricting these offerings. Physicians also are able to access scientific data in real time through other channels.

“While oncologists still see some value in rep visits, increased patient load and more time spent on reimbursement issues limit the time they have available. Most practices now require reps to schedule appointments in advance – and generally provide only two or three potential openings per week.”

Critics of pharmaceutical companies would also add that drug companies unduly influence prescribing decisions of doctors with payoffs of one sort or another, whatever the access.