The 2015 Pharmaceutical Compliance Congress: A Review

The Sixteenth Annual Pharmaceutical Regulatory and Compliance Congress, in Washington DC, featured legislators and industry leaders discussing hot topics and best practices to a diverse and rapt audience of compliance professionals.

Annual OIG Update from Mary Riordan

The opening plenary session kicked off with the annual OIG Update, from Mary Riordan, Senior Counsel, Office of Counsel to the Inspector General. In addition to her usual review of recent settlements actions (False Claims and otherwise), and the OIG’s Fiscal Year 2015 Work Plan, Riordan focused on the responsibilities of boards of directors in company compliance functions, and urged the audience to use the OIG’s April 2015 Practical Guidance for Healthcare Governing Boards on Compliance Oversight as a starting point for those expectations. Staying on the topic of board responsibility, she pointed out that prior to her appearance at the conference, Millennium Health LLC had entered into a Corporate Integrity Agreement that requires the company to maintain a majority of independent (non-executive and non-family) directors as part of the settlement.

When stressing that kickback concerns continue in the industry and for her agency, Riordan suggested that attendees “think about the kickback risks associated with financial relationships and strive to identify the relationships that would implicate risks.” What controls are in place? Are those controls meaningful and effective? She emphasized that the OIG was there to help and their goal is “not to collect penalties, rather, it is to encourage companies to comply.”

She also focused on individual accountability and reminded the audience that “individual accountability at all levels of organizations is under fresh scrutiny as the OIG tries to identify individuals responsible for misconduct.”

AUSA Panel

The Assistant US Attorney’s (AUSA) Panel followed with Charlene Keller Fullmer from the US Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia, Jeffrey Steger from the Civil Division of the DOJ, and Kristen Williams from the US Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles, presenting their views on the direction of compliance enforcement. Keller Fullmer said her office continues to see off-label cases focused on kickbacks, particularly with small companies and medical device companies. She pointed out that with smaller companies, pinpointing a paper trail is an easier and less cumbersome process than it is with the larger companies. Following up on Mary Riordan’s comments, she also suggested a review of recent CIAs, and their emphasis on individual accountability.

Williams recited her office’s mantra of “come in, come early, and come often” when discussing how companies should react to an investigation. Demonstrating a robust approach to compliance is critical when she evaluates a compliance program. She recommends a proactive approach, one in which a company responds to issues, before those issues even arise in that company.

For Steger, the key to a successful compliance program is one that involves more than just compliance personnel (a theme throughout the conference). Is compliance part of the company’s culture? Has the company taken proactive steps to initiate and invite feedback, e.g., an 800 number compliance tip line?

FBI’s New Focus on FCPA Investigations

The next plenary presentation was a bit of a twist on the usual agenda, as Jeffrey S. Sallet, National Chief of Public Corruption and Civil Rights for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, offered the update on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) from the Bureau’s perspective. The focus was on a “five pillars” approach to successful enforcement and according to Agent Sallet, only through a partnership with the public, industry, and other governmental agencies like the SEC, DOJ, and IRS, can the FBI be successful in its goals to encourage a global culture of compliance.

Agent Sallet’s enthusiasm and energy was a tough act to follow and after a break, Thomas Abrams, Director, Division of Drug Marketing, Advertising and Communications, Food and Drug Administration followed up with his annual FDA-Office of Prescription Drug Promotion (OPDP) update. As per usual, Abrams presented a plethora of notes and comments describing the FDA’s efforts over the last year, a high-level review of the document and advertisement submission process and summaries of guidance released and/or updated by his office. These include the 2014 guidance documents on the use of social media.

Abrams closed with a great example of a sales aid that spurred a warning letter from his office. The product being promoted was contraindicated for children under 6 year of age, but the aid included an image of a very young child in its montage of images, and it included no risk information. Seeing such a clear violation provided a concrete and powerful case for why companies need to take the OPDP’s guidance seriously, and regularly test the process for submitting samples through the agency’s email dedicated to that process – ESUB@fda.hhs.gov.

Chief Compliance Officer Roundtable

Following the FDA presentation, a Chief Compliance Officer Roundtable focused on the evolution of compliance programs following the expiration of Corporate Integrity Agreements. CCOs from an array of pharmaceutical companies agreed that while the end of the CIA did not cause drastic changes in their programs, it afforded them the opportunity to expand how they approached topics like training.

One panelist began by stating that on Day 1 following the expiration, there were no public displays and no celebrations, saying “it was business as usual.”

Another panelist recalled that her department was relieved that they could now think beyond four hours of online training and include “short spurts of training throughout the year.” When asked about tracking that training, the panelist admitted that doing so was sometimes a challenge, but the organization was able to “focus on getting back to their true purpose, educating the learners.”

A third panelist brought up the topic of policies and how the shift to a post-CIA environment gave them an opportunity to survey the full staff for thoughts on what works best in compliance polies and subsequently revamp those policies based on that feedback. The company even hired a creative agency to help them create documents that presented policy content in a more graphical and engaging fashion.

The fourth panelist emphasized the importance of developing a risk assessment model and addressing risk-based needs accordingly. Others agreed, emphasizing that they are now using data analytics gathered during the CIA to address those risks.

FCPA Anticorruption Panel

Day 1 closed with a unique twist on the standard presentations, as a panel of in-house and outside attorneys discussed the FCPA through the lens of a hypothetical case. The structure offered a relief from the standard didactic approach to the content, with moderator, Gary Giampetruzzi, Partner at Paul Hastings, guiding panelists through the scenario.

The scenario was structured and branched in a manner that allowed for gray areas and debate as to the best resolution for each question. As an example, when discussing whether post CIA, the Compliance department should be moved back into the Legal department, one panelist avoided what may have seemed the obvious answer of “no,” and stressed that combining the two would be okay if Compliance still had independence despite the structure. An attorney on the panel agreed, especially in terms of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, having that independent voice is the key.

US DOJ Civil Section Update

Day 2 started early, with an 8:15 AM update on the DOJ Civil Section from Benjamin Mizer, head of the agency’s civil division. Mizer discussed the growth in qui tam civil cases (FY 2014 saw 469 healthcare-related cases) and presented compelling statistics on the cases involving rewards to relators. In a comment that was prevalent throughout the conference, he reminded the audience of the government’s use of data to expedite investigations and make a decision as to whether or not to proceed.

Update from CMS on Open Payments

The highly-anticipated presentation from Douglas Brown of CMS didn’t disappoint attendees interested in learning details around the data collected and the updates/improvements to the Open Payments system. Brown pointed out that covered recipients with higher counts of payments records were more likely to review and dispute transfers of value, and there were just over 30,000 disputes, equally divided across teaching hospitals, physicians and principal investigators.

On the enhancements front, the agency is focusing on eliminating the character limitations in the system, so email addresses won’t be blocked. The ability to download reported records will also be enhanced to include dispute information and recipients will have the ability to exchange contact information with the reporting entity to further facilitate the review and dispute process.

After providing the audience with a number of reminders, (e.g., device names are now required on submissions, and TOVs to physician-owned distributors are considered indirect payments and must be reported), Brown informed the attendees that the next Open Payments Open Session Webinar is scheduled for Thursday, October 29th.

Qui Tam Panel

The Qui Tam Panel started with Jillian Estes of James Hoyer Newcomer & Smiljanich, PA, reviewing her recent representation of a relator who worked undercover seven years in a pharmaceutical company investigation. Estes used the case to describe who she considered the ideal relator – a principle driven person with a fearless mindset, who is willing to suffer the consequences of a whistle blower. The individual needs to be realistic in expectation and understand that the process is a long one, usually 3-5 years.

Joseph Trautwein, of Joseph Trautwein & Associates LLC, made it clear that the reason potential relators come to him is because they went to their employers first and the situation was not corrected. The panel listed the characteristics of a good whistleblower case:

  • A lie took place
  • A party benefits form the lie
  • The scheme can be easily explained to the government
  • There is enough evidence of misconduct that the complaint will survive a motion to dismiss
  • There is proof of damages
  • It’s a “good story”

Off-Label Communications and the First Amendment

In the final plenary session of the morning, Paul Kalb of Sidley Austin LLP, delved into the Amarin and Pacira lawsuits, whereby the companies presented the argument that criminalizing off-label promotion when it is used to communicate truthful information is unconstitutional. Kalb reviewed the potential ramifications of those cases and closed with the reminder the proverbial jury is still out on how on-going cases will be settled. Based on recent rulings though, we are fast approaching a fork in the road in this core and critical compliance issue.

Mini-Summit: Evaluating Compliance Program Effectiveness

Among the first series of “Mini Summit” breakout sessions, I chose to attend the Evaluating Compliance Program Effectiveness – Board Responsibilities, Board Advisors, and Compliance Experts panel discussion and Q&A.

The first panelist indicated that a good starting point for evaluation of the program is how the company manages high-risk third parties. Are there strong and effective controls in place for third-parties doing business on behalf of the company? Another stressed the need to have outside counsel involved in the program to provide an outsider’s view on the process and the program. A third panelist felt strongly that having people with different backgrounds on the compliance team is important. He also suggested that attendees look at the OIG’s recent guidance for board oversight of the program. “The board needs to demand frequent dialogue,” he said. Another felt that board members have a responsibility to ask questions, review the data, and speak up.

When evaluating training, one panelist emphasized the power of employee surveys to assess whether all participants understood the content of the training. When an audience member asked whether those surveys should be broad or targeted, that panelist said it depends on how each company operates and another added that at his company, they survey the entire employee population.

One panelist also warned the audience about the risk of getting too comfortable in their policies and procedures. New people coming into the company may be coming from a different industry, and may not have had orientation to a compliance program. “Be ahead of the curve,” he said, “when decisions like Amarin come down, you need to be having a conversation.” A fellow speaker followed with the need for an interaction between compliance and the businesses. “It’s important to vet your compliance procedures with the business owners,” he said.

Mini-Summit: Managing Multi-national HCP Meetings

In the Managing Multi-national HCP Meetings: Complying with the Codes and Transparency Requirements session, a panel from around the world discussing the codes and laws relevant to their particular regions.

One industry executive discussed the challenge of holding meetings with physicians from around the world, who each bring their own set of rules from his or her home country. For example, when holding an advisory board with multinational participants, how should meal limits be addressed when those limits vary? The company establishes ground rules but allows common sense to prevail – for example if a limit is slightly above the physician’s home limit, allowing the meals may be a more realistic approach. The executive added that it’s important to create a list of approved meeting places in each country and to train travel agencies on that list.

Hwa-Soo Chung of the Kim & Chang Law Firm in Seoul, South Korea, reviewed the rules in her country, where practices are driven by industry codes with strict limits on speaker meetings no matter where the meeting is held. That severely restricts how much companies around the world can invite Korean doctors to their meetings.

According to Yuet Ming Tham, of Sidley Austin and former Asia-Pacific Compliance Director for Pfizer, “the biggest risks are Korea and China.” The companies she works with will go for lowest meal limit among the group of physicians. In terms of content, companies should always follow the rules of where the meeting is taking place.

Summary

The Sixteenth Annual Pharmaceutical Regulatory and Compliance Congress managed to deliver new perspective and debate on the topics facing the life sciences compliance industry, despite what some attendees described as a lack of new guidance, news or government policies in recent months. Each day of the conference was filled wall-to-wall with the type of keynote speeches, panel discussions and networking opportunities both experienced professionals, and newcomers to the field, need to consider as they strive to create and maintain compelling and effective compliance programs.

Thanks for reading,

Sean Murphy

About NXLevel Solutions

Through its PharmaCertify™ division, NXLevel Solutions helps life science companies build positive compliance cultures and reduce risk through innovative training and communication solutions. Our newest tool, TOVdisclosure.com, is a streamlined and intuitive site that enables manufacturers to share payments information with HCPs and HCOs before data is reported to CMS or other authorities. Contact us or visit TOVdisclosure.com for more information.

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