The 2014 Pharmaceutical Compliance Congress featured many of the same speakers and topics as past conferences, but recent developments in the world of anti-bribery and compliance brought a new twist to the presentations.

Last year’s developments related to the Chinese government’s aggressive pursuit of corruptions was a recurring topic, with John Crisan, Chief Compliance Officer for Johnson & Johnson, stating at the start of the first session, “what happened in China is a major game changer,” and in a later session, Gary Giampetruzzi from Pfizer said, “The fact that China has put people to death for corruption-related offenses certainly gives pause for concern.”

After the opening remarks of Day 1, Tom Abrams from the Office of Prescription Drug Promotion at the FDA took the stage. Of course, Abrams’ presentation this year had the added bonus of the recently announced news regarding the agency’s guidance on social media. Before providing detail on the guidance, particularly in regard to the process for submitting promoting websites, he emphasized that the agency has more work to do in regard to social media and it “will continue to be a high priority.”   Abrams also told the audience that overall, the quality of promotional materials seems to be improving and the agency is very encouraged at the level of voluntary compliance by the industry.

Carmen Ortiz, US Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, followed with a keynote address regarding the trends in healthcare that have followed major settlements with pharmaceutical companies. Ortiz told the audience that there have been no shortage of qui tam referrals and “the publicity around the cases helps her office reach other whistleblowers and bring more issues to light.” She included the establishment of what she called “ethical compensation plans for reps” and on-going training (a topic close to our hearts and minds here at NXLevel Solutions) in her list of critical best practices for life sciences companies.

Anita Griner, from the CMS Center for Program Integrity followed with a review of the ever popular Open Payments program, a.k.a. the Sunshine Act. Griner offered a thorough review of what data needs to be reported under Sunshine and the process for submitting those reports. Her review included the three reporting categories: General Payments, Research Payments and Ownership and Investment Interests, as well as examples of both Direct and Indirect Payments. Griner’s presentation was comprehensive and she suggested anyone with questions contact the agency’s help desk at openpayments@cms.hhs.gov or sign up for the updates at http://go.cms.gov/openpayments.

The US Healthcare Fraud Enforcement Panel was next, with representatives from US attorney’s offices around the country. Ben Singer, from the Department of Justice, highlighted the focus on the healthcare industry by stating that the DOJ has 38 prosecutors fully dedicated to healthcare fraud prosecution.  Zane Memeger, from the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, discussed the cooperative nature of their work, saying the larger offices share resources with the smaller offices in order to boost their efforts throughout the country. Memeger stressed the critical behavior his office looks for when considering the settlements for violators. Key on his list is whether a company trains its employees regularly, since the rules change regularly, and whether the company self-discloses a violation. Bill Nettles, from South Carolina, agreed, saying he and his colleagues discuss whether each case was self-reported when they review. Of course, when the panel was asked whether they ever decided to not prosecute a case because the disclosure was voluntary, the members smiled and said no.

A panel of defense attorneys closed the morning with suggestions for mitigating risks and preparing for the future. Jennifer Romanski from Porzio reminded the audience that while compliance has to have authority, they have to have buy-in from the entire organization. “You can’t have compliance doing everything,” Romanski stated, “businesses need to play a role.” David Resnicoff of Miller & Chevalier focused on clinical research programs and the need for companies to focus on “what the conversations with the federal government will look sound like, even as they are building their compliance programs.”

For the early afternoon session, I selected the Product Promotional Compliance Track, which kicked off with Lessons Learned from Recent Enforcement Actions Related to Digital Marketing and Social Media. David Vance of Noven offered a comprehensive review of FDA’s position on Internet promotion, and emphasized the need for diligent self-regulation by the industry. During her presentation on Compliant Social Interactions and Engagement, Jennifer Chillas from Bristol-Myers Squibb made a point that those in the industry should not be telling their vendors about the compliance rules, the vendors should be telling them. Do your training vendors know the rules? We do.

During a lively question and answer session, Vance, Sheetal Patel from Johnson & Johnson, and Chillas delved into the challenges of “liking” pages on Facebook.  They agreed that the key is to be aware of what you are “liking” and be careful not to “like” off-label discussions or scientific discussions on sites such as Medscape.

To gain more of a perspective on the global front, I chose the 2:40 session titled FCPA – Key Insights and Enforcement Trends, during which Gary Giampetruzzi from Pfizer made the comment regarding China that I quoted earlier. Giampetruzzi was joined by Richard Konzelmann from Daiichi Sankyo, and the two presented what I considered to be one of the most informative and compelling sessions of the entire conference. After presenting an array of statistics and polls showing that a significant driver of business growth over the next three years will be customers outside the US, the two speakers made a case for the need for increased diligence over interactions, starting with more auditing and investigatory work. Giampetruzzi said he expects FCPA enforcement to accelerate even more quickly, with the 2013 institution of the whistleblower provision in the Dodd-Frank Act. Properly trained management is key to creating an environment in which employees feel comfortable discussing issues internally and feel their concerns are addressed without the need for outside reporting.

I closed Day 1 with the Effective Crisis Management Panel, which featured an impressive list of attorneys and consultants from King & Spalding and more. Wick Sollers, who not long ago represented Joe Paterno at Penn State, pointed out that due to the nature of its business, the pharmaceutical industry is one of the most crisis prone and the need for training on how to respond to a crisis is critical. Seth Lundy agreed, saying “too many of our clients are surprised when someone from the government shows up at the door.” The panel agreed that the Sunshine Act is a risk, particularly with the release of the data scheduled for September and their concern that companies are too focused on the details of the process instead of what the data will reveal.

Day 2

Day 2 started early and the FCPA was once again in focus, as Kathleen Hamann of the law firm, White & Case, again looked at the Act and reminded the bleary-eyed audience to not make their diligence just about the FCPA, but more about eliminating bribery worldwide.

Ilisa B.G. Bernstein, Deputy Director of the Office of Compliance at the FDA, covered the top oversight priorities for the agency. Bernstein focused on the manufacturing problems that occurred because so many facilities were old and out-of-date. But the FDA is encouraged to see the industry policing the problem itself, with firms building new plants, creating better methods and production redundancy.

As the second cup of coffee started to have its desired effect, Patrik Florencio and Samuele Butera, both of Sandoz, and Erik Ramanathan, of Harvard Law School, delivered their Making Compliance Part of Management 101 presentation, which was met with favorable comments throughout the rest of the day. The focus of their comments drilled down to “how often does your manager clearly and specifically reinforce that compliance must never be compromised in order to hit targets?” The three presenters offered a fresh take on the concept of a “culture of compliance” by presenting concrete examples of how internal communication, focused on sales targets, can be seamlessly enhanced with core compliance principles. Compliance targets and goals should not just be theoretical but should be intertwined with financial goals.

The Chief Compliance Officer Panel included the CCOs from AstraZeneca, Daiichi-Sankyo, Aegerion, and Sunovion. Following an introduction by the moderator, which ran a little too long for a number of attendees I later spoke to, the panel also discussed the rules-based vs. values-based approach to compliance. Balance seems to be the key, with Sarah Whipple from Aegerion noting that in “our business, you can’t get away from a rules-based approach. People are used to rules, but people need to be rewarded for doing the right thing.” Jeff Fleming from AstraZeneca pointed out that his company is evolving from a rules-based approach to a values-based one, which does present challenges. “If you’re not going to have rules, tremendous accountability is required,” said Fleming. Matthew D’Ambrosio from Sunovion touched on the handling of mistakes, “Mistakes can be addressed with training, except of course for catastrophic mistakes.” he said. The panelists also agreed that communications and effective awareness campaigns are critical.

The Compliance Program Structure and Effectiveness track was my next stop. Representatives from large and small pharma companies presented suggestions on topics from the challenges of multinational compliance programs to the importance of business in compliance decisions. Jessica Kwon of Forest Laboratories talked about the need to be aware of what is going on in a specific country, politically and culturally, when establishing a compliance program there. “That helps move the conversation along,” Kwon said, “bring yourself out of a US focus.”

Christine Fiore and Bob Doyle of Boehringer-Ingelheim centered their presentation on integrating the business into compliance and it proved to be one of the most dynamic sessions of the day. The pair explained how the compliance department at BI is made up of professionals from different backgrounds who bring a valuable range of experience to the table. Fiore stressed the need to make compliance training fun and engaging and shared tools and tips for doing so with the audience. She even demonstrated an internally-developed iPad app that features video clips and policy documents in a creative and organized framework. This was great material and certainly cutting-edge in terms of how critical compliance content is delivered.

For final session of the conference, I chose the discussion on Compliance Considerations for Small to Mid-Sized Companies, mostly because so many of my clients fit this description and I’m always looking for more knowledge to share with them. The session didn’t disappoint. The discussion began with the topic of resources and whether the participants utilize others, outside of compliance, to accomplish their objectives. “You have to,” said David Stollman from Incyte, “but you have to ask permission to do so. Don’t set yourself up for failure.” Jeff Rosenbaum from Vertex said he turns to his colleagues in accounting for help with auditing. He also pointed out that for small companies with a global presence, compliance can be difficult and again, a focus on the biggest areas of risk is necessary.

On the subject of budgets, the panel agreed that decisions have to be made on what is really needed and what is wanted. How much of that can be done in-house? A good risk assessment will lead to the budget and that assessment needs to be the first step. For Elizabeth Jobes from Auxilum, prioritization is critical. “The highest risk has to be addressed first.”

The session closed with a word of warning from a number of the panelist – no matter how limited your resources, don’t conduct investigations alone. One-on-one meetings in those situations present too many opportunities for facts to be recorded improperly and distorted later.

The 2014 Pharmaceutical Compliance Congress, along with PCF’s Pharmaceutical Regulatory and Compliance Congress both offer excellent opportunities for industry professionals to stay abreast of the best practices and strategies needed in a complex and evolving regulatory world. As a vendor partner, the conferences provide me the chance to not only network with clients and colleagues, but also distribute critical ideas through my social outlets, such as this blog.

If you attended the 2014 PCC, I welcome your comments and feedback. Thanks for reading!

Sean Murphy, NXLevel Solutions