News and Notes from the 15th Annual Pharmaceutical Compliance Congress

CBI’s annual Pharmaceutical Compliance Congress, which took place April 23rd to the 25th in Washington DC, featured industry leaders and government representatives espousing the usual best practices for building and maintaining an effective compliance program, but this year’s agenda offered a few surprises and changes in the regulatory wind. The notes below highlight some of the sessions we found to be particularly interesting and newsworthy.

Day 1

CCO Exchange – Adapting and Evolving Compliance Programs in Support of Innovation

Following the opening remarks and a session covering politics and the pharmaceutical industry, the conference kicked into gear as Maggie Feltz of Purdue Pharma, Jennifer McGee of Otsuka, Jill Fallows Macaluso of Novo Nordisk, and Sujata Dayal of Johnson & Johnson discussed their process for “partnering with business” in the company to maximize the strength of their compliance programs. The panelists stressed the importance of establishing a relationship with business that is built on open dialogue and trust.  Documentation is also key to that relationship and as one panelist pointed out, “the government cares about how you document that you are preventing issues.” It’s important to “shape the way you are perceived in the relationship by using business language,” she emphasized, and to measure your own effectiveness by simply determining whether business is inviting you back to the table. Your compliance program is only effective if you have a seat at that table.

Once the partnership is established, you need to “get the business to think and talk about risk and conduct a benefit-risk analysis,” according to one panelist. Another reminded the audience that Corporate Integrity Agreements (CIAs) hold important clues about topics of focus for the government. This is particularly enlightening considering the recent Aegerion and United Therapeutics CIAs that dealt with third-party patient assistance programs, a topic discussed throughout the conference.

The panelists also covered working with third-party vendors and the need for monitoring and testing of those vendors to ensure they are complying. As one panelist put it, “you need to be sure those companies are applying your standards.”

Stakeholder Spotlight – Strategies for Collaborating with Business Partners to Enhance Compliance Enterprise-Wide   

Gail Cawkwell, Medical Affairs at Intercept Pharmaceuticals, Cecilia Matthews, Human Resources at MedImmune, Gregory Moss, Deputy General Counselor at Kadmon, and Gary Cupit, CEO of PortA Pharmaceuticals provided the business perspective on the compliance/business partnership. The panelists reiterated key points from the CCO session, with one emphasizing the need for the two departments to tackle the issues together as business partners and another seeing compliance not as a goal, but “a base objective that underlies everything.”

One panelist emphasized the need to be aggressive in the approach, pointing out that she is the person “bothering the compliance department, digging into SOPs, asking why they do things that way, and asking how each policy helps the company.”  She prides herself on partnering with compliance to “find a better way to do it.”

Highly-Acclaimed U.S. Healthcare Fraud and Enforcement Panel – Past and Present Prosecutor Parley

A large group of current and past government enforcement representatives covered the current compliance risks facing the life sciences industry. The session started with a discussion about the nation’s opioid crisis and how each office is addressing the epidemic. One current assistant U.S. attorney summarized the threat to the industry succinctly, “If your company is involved in opioids at all, you are under intense scrutiny.”

In one of the more interesting moments of the conference, the panelists pointed out that the focus on off-label enforcement has shifted away from large pharmaceutical companies to smaller ones. According to one speaker, small companies and startups are under greater pressure to sell and to save money, especially if they are funded by venture capital companies. That leads to a higher risk of off-label promotion.

Continuing a theme, prescription assistance programs and patient charities were addressed in relation to kickback risk. As stated, “any coordination between the charity and the company that shows the company is just trying to pay for its product being prescribed is a concern.” At least two current regulators supported the idea of self-disclosure and being honest about potential violations. “Being candid about where the compliance program has fallen short and the steps the company is going to take to correct the problem is important,” one of them said.

The group of former regulators, who mostly now serve as industry counsel, touched on exclusion as a risk. While it may be considered a rarely-sought tool, prosecutors have the threat of exclusion available to them as leverage. They also delved into the importance of data and reminded the audience that prosecutors are indeed scouring Sunshine Act data.

Patient Assistance Programs and Reimbursement Hub Services Compliance – A New Wave of Enforcement Actions

Attendees were provided five options for the first breakout sessions. The PAP and Hub Services panel was moderated by Jane Yoon of Paul Hastings LLP, and featured Peter Agnoletto of Sanofi, Sarah Whipple of Akebia Therapeutics, and Evan Bartell of KPMG LLP.

The discussion began with a polling question asking attendees where the management of donations sits in their organization. Corporate Social Responsibility and the Grants Committee were the top answers. The question led to a discussion over best practices, with one speaker warning, “you at least need to take commercial out of any involvement with donations.” Another admitted that not having a say in how the money is spent is hard concept for the business to grasp but the separation is important.

In the next polling question, attendees were asked if they monitor relationships and interactions with the foundations. 57% replied yes, and 28% said no. The panel reminded the audience that recent CIAs included the stipulation that those relationships are monitored.

Another question was focused on sales representatives and their involvement with donations. 48% of the audience said their reps are provided with talking points. Panelists suggested that if the sales reps are involved, compliance needs to understand how the information is being used. Clear guidelines need to be established and the reps need to be trained on those guidelines.

Off-label Communications – Deep Dive into the New Regulatory Updates and Actions

Angela Rodin of KPMG LLP and Laura Terrell of DLA Piper LLP presented the update on the status of off-label promotion trends and enforcement in the industry. Starting in 2012, enforcement shifted, as companies argued that off-label marketing is protected under the First Amendment and therefore cannot be prosecuted under misbranding provisions of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA). One presenter pointed out that while the government is no long pursuing off-label promotion as a stand-alone FDCA case, it continues to enforce False Claims Act (FCA) and Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS) cases related to off-label promotion.

The bottom line is that even with strong support of free speech as a defense of off-label promotion, life sciences companies still need to be cautious. Clear and effective training is still needed.

Social Media – New Challenges and Updates

Elizabeth Kim of Loeb & Loeb LLP began the social media presentation with the underlying premise that while the digital landscape has changed dramatically over recent years, the legal landscape remains the same. Even on social media, promotional statements cannot be false or misleading and communications must be consistent with labeling and fair-balanced.

Social media is challenging, the presenter stressed, because it promotes a dialogue, which means the company has a lack of control over the conversation. But there are some steps companies can take that at least help with the control. The ability for readers to comment on posts can be turned off on Facebook. No such control exists with Twitter. In addition, key words can be flagged on Facebook to help monitor comments. Unfortunately, as the presenter noted, most companies lack the resources and personnel to properly monitor social media outlets.

She also mentioned that while companies have no obligation to correct third-party, independent comments, public, unsolicited requests for off-label information must be met with a limited response to contact Medical Affairs only. “If you do reply,” she said, “responses should be narrowly tailored. Watch out for getting into arguments.”

The FDA’s Office of Prescription Drug Promotion (OPDP) has issued 233 warning letters over the last ten years for omitting information, minimizing risk information, and overstating efficacy claims on social media. As existing platforms evolve, and new ones appear, the need for updated training to ensure your field-based employees are abiding by laws like the FCA and FDCA, as well as OIG guidance and the PhRMA Code, is critical.

Medical Affairs and MSL Oversight

The Medical Affairs panel included Tina Beamon, Alicia Temoche, and Stephanie Macholtz from Alexion Pharmaceuticals, and Christine O’Connor-Fiore from Boehringer Ingelheim. The session began with the panelists establishing the general rules for how Medical Affairs may interact with healthcare professionals. Attendees were reminded that Medical Affairs can “do things R&D and Commercial cannot do” and “they are not limited to the label.” MSLs provide training to consultants for speaker programs but in the words of one panelist, “they are not Commercial and their integrity must be protected.”

The panelists admitted that the model for Medical Affairs and Commercial interactions has changed in reaction to marketplace changes. Medical Affairs should share insights as long as those insights are not off-label. “The walls between Commercial and Medical Affairs are coming down,” she said, “and a framework needs to be in place to protect the integrity of the MSL.”

Behavioral Compliance – Using Psychology to Make Programs More Effective

In one of the more unique sessions I’ve witnessed in years of attending compliance congresses, this session focused on behavioral compliance as a tool for generating more compliant outcomes. Yogesh Bahl, of AlixPartners, Kevin Ryan of Novo Nordisk, and Charlene Davis of Sun Pharmaceuticals provided conceptual concepts around the philosophy and practical application of behavioral compliance, using ideas known as “ethical nudges.”

The session began with the audience being asked to provide feedback on which of two compliance posters they thought were more effective. Essentially, one reflected a “rules-based” approach, and the other a “values-based” one. The values-based poster was the more popular choice and the content of the session supported that approach. The underlying premise behind the ethical nudges is that “people become ethical by doing ethical things.” Ethical nudges were essentially defined as “interactions based on the understanding of internal decision-making to promote desirable choices.” They included “read and affirm” documents presented right before a critical HCP interaction, visual cues like signage and posters, and micro-training launched strategically in conjunction with the need for ethical decision making.

Critical CIA and Enforcement Learnings – Zero-In on Emerging Trends to Elevate Compliance Safeguards      

The key points of this session were no surprise considering the oft-repeated focus of recent CIAs. BJ D’Avella of Deloitte and Touche LLP and Seth Lundy of King & Spalding LLP reminded attendees that “the focus of CIAs had shifted to interactions with patients, and more than ever, companies need to have a Risk Assessment and Mitigation Plan (RAMP) in place.” That RAMP needs to include activity-based risks in addition to the usual product-based risks.

One of the presenters pointed out that the OIG is focusing on a “smaller number of CIAs that send messages to the industry.” He reminded the audience that CIAs are not laws, but they are a strong indicator of where to focus risk mitigation efforts.

Day 2

CCO Scenario Symposium – What Would You Do?

After a review of the sessions and events of Day 1 by Michael Shaw of GlaxoSmithKline, Day 2 began with this session, during which panelists were asked to participate in a mock case study of “Bad Pharma Co” and expand on lessons learned from this fictional company. Beth Levine of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Ashley Watson of Merck, Jerald Korn of Tesaro, and Keith McGahan of Spectrum Pharmaceuticals were asked to discuss the optimal organizational structure companies like the mock one presented in the case study. One presenter felt that having compliance as part of the legal department was a benefit because it gave her greater access to the CEO and others in the board of directors. Others felt that if compliance has that type of access, “it doesn’t matter where they sit.”

Other scenarios brought up in the case study led presenters to offer tips on dealing with compliance situations and those who raise the concerns. For example, one speaker emphasized that “no matter the source, the company’s obligation is to search for the facts of the case.” Speculation about the whistleblower and his or her credibility should not come into play. Also, “if someone sends information about a violation anonymously, it needs to be kept that way.”

Meeting of the Enforcement Minds

Heather Johnson from the Federal Trade Commission, Sally Molloy from the Department of Justice, and Eric Rubenstein from the OIG presented their suggestions for companies to keep their compliance programs attuned to current regulatory challenges. On the topic of bribery for example, one presenter suggested that “internal controls need to be robust and designed so that they are not siloed. It’s all bribery.” Another emphasized that recent trends point to Medicare and Medicaid fraud as a primary source for qui tam cases.

Beyond the Seven Elements of and Effective Compliance Program – What Else Are You Doing?

As a compliance training company, this session, featuring Jerald Korn of Tesaro, Chad Morin of bluebird bio, and Gregory Moss of Kadmon Holdings, held particularly interest for us. As one presenter stated, “creating a brand for the compliance department is a fun way to convey important information.” That holds true for the training as well, and we work with companies to create a continuous, engaging, and “fun” curriculum.

Another speaker noted the importance of being creative in the policies to help ensure compliant behavior, as well as the need to establish a collaborative culture. As stated, “you’re not trying to check the boxes on all seven elements, you’re trying to build a robust program that is effective.”

Existing and Emerging State Laws Governing Transparency Reporting

The state laws presentation, with Maggie Feltz and Michael Grandison of Purdue Pharma, and Brian Bohnenkamp of King & Spalding, LLP, began with tips for managing aggregate spend:

  • Train company-wide, not just the sales force
  • Train, retrain, then train some more
  • Monitor throughout the year

The panel pointed out that state laws fall into three categories; drug pricing transparency, aggregate spend laws, and sales representative licensing and reporting laws. The landscape across all three changes quickly and they expect 2018 to be as busy as 2017.

In recent state-related news, Maryland’s law was found to be unconstitutional and according to one panelist, that “has quieted some of what other states have been considering.” Oregon was brought up as the most challenging law since it “requires documentation to support your documents.” In New Jersey, where the law was passed on the last day of the outgoing administration, one speaker mentioned that Governor Murphy’s team is considering major changes. On the drug pricing front, the panel expects two or three more laws to be implemented.

Obviously, the state law landscape is confusing and changes are happening at a dizzying rate. As one speaker emphasized, diligence, and continuous training is necessary to “ensure every decision-maker is aware of new requirements.”

Maximization of Compliance Resources

I close with what may have been the best session of the entire conference! (okay, I may be a bit biased since this panel included my colleague, and head of PharmaCertify, Dan O’Connor.) Dan was joined by Chad Morin of bluebird bio and Laurie Kathleen Durousseau of Rigel Pharmaceuticals. The session focused on how compliance professionals can best focus their time and energy toward those activities that are most critical during the various growth stages of a life science company from pre-clinical to established.

Starting with a quick poll of the audience, the panel first determined the average size and stage of companies represented. Most of the audience members were an “n of 1” compliance department in a company with 200 or fewer employees that is in the “Clinical” or “First Product” stage. The panel then shared their suggestions for which compliance-related activities to prioritize during each growth stage. In the “first product” stage for example, aggregate spend transparency reporting; government price reporting; specialized training by function; and patient support program design were discussed, among other topics.

The panelists also covered the need for small departments to partner with the business, as well as other departments, to spread the resource load and accomplish the objectives of each stage. For any compliance department challenged with limited resources and personnel, it was a worthwhile thirty minutes of learning. If you missed the conference, Dan would be happy to provide his perspective on the topic. Feel free to contact him at doconnor@nxlevelsolutions.com.

Summary

The world of life sciences compliance is changing, and so is CBI’s Pharmaceutical Compliance Congress. This year’s conference presented a compelling balance of traditional content that newcomers to the field should find valuable as a base of knowledge, with enough updates on key areas of regulatory focus (off-label, patient assistance programs, state laws, etc.) to keep the seasoned compliance professionals in the audience satisfied with agenda. It also offers industry professionals a rare opportunity to meet face-to-face with their peers and hear best practices for strengthening their compliance cultures and reducing risk. I highly recommend the conference next year for chief compliance officers, specialists, managers, and anyone working in the life sciences compliance training industry. Kudos to CBI and all the presenters!

Thanks for reading.

Sean Murphy
Editor, PharmaCertify Compliance Training Insights Blog

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