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Drug Sales Reps And Doctors: The Real "Pharma's Market"

Monday, 5 Nov 2007 | 10:40 AM ET
CNBC.com

As I begin my vacation, I wanted to tell you about a story I did that's airing while I'm away on the new edition of CNBC's "Business Nation"this Wednesday (November 7th) at 9 p and midnight ET. It's about the increasingly strained relationship between drug sales reps and doctors.

Who hasn't seen at least one drug salesperson sitting in the waiting room of their doctor's office? This piece aims to clue people in about how the reps do their jobs and influence the physicians to send you home with a prescription for a particular medication.

And it's not just about free pens, pads of paper and dinners at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse. At the risk of sounding like a local TV-news promotional cliche, I think some of the anecdotes and sales tactics will surprise you.

For example, there's a former sales rep who says he and his colleagues used to refer to doctors as "drug whores". That same former rep says one of the doctors he'd call on could be persuaded to write prescriptions for certain drugs depending on which company's sales rep got him sporting event tickets. And on the flip side, a doctor whose practice turned down an estimated half-a-million dollars in annual "rebates" from a major biotech company.

Many of the major drug companies are laying off thousands of sales reps. In the face of declining sales, generic competition, drug development pipeline and commercial disappointments the firms have to cut costs. Analysts have been saying for quite some time that there are way too many sales reps calling on doctors. But tens of thousands of them who are still on the payroll are encountering a growing level of pushback from busy docs and frustrated, prominent med school.

At my suggestion, CNBC bought an ad for the story on www.cafepharma.com to promote it and hopefully generate buzz. The site is primarily geared toward pharma and biotech employees, especially sales reps who are looking for jobs, company insight, to chat and, frankly, spread gossip and rumors. There are already at least a couple of threadsthat have apparently grown out of the adwhich will be on the site for about a week.

I hope it promotes intelligent debate and the show--9p and midnight ET this Wednesday--and that you'll watch.

Questions? Comments? Pharma@cnbc.com