GlaxoSmithKline has warned political leaders in Massachusetts that the bid by state Senate President Therese Murray to outlaw pharmaceutical companies’ gifts to physicians would make it “the most hostile state in the nation when it comes to biopharmaceutical sales,” and suggested that implementation of the measure could discourage further development there by the UK-based pharma major.

In April, GSK announced plans to buy Sirtris Pharmaceuticals, which is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for $720 million and a year ago it bought Waltham-based Praecis Pharmaceuticals for $54.8 million. In letters sent this week to State Governor Deval Patrick and House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, GSK’s president of US pharmaceuticals Christopher Viehbacher describes Massachusetts as “fertile ground” for the firm, given the state’s “great research institutions and a cluster of promising biotech companies” and praising the $1 billion Massachusetts Life Science Strategy, which Gov Patrick unveiled a year ago with the aim of making the state the world leader in life sciences within 10 years.

However, Mr Viehbacher also warns in his letter to Gov Patrick and Speaker DiMasi that: “I must express my concern - and even alarm - about a strong anti-biopharmaceutical streak that seems to run through the Massachusetts political establishment,” and that some legislators are seeking to “attack and demonize” the industry.

Sen Murray’s proposed ban on manufacturers’ gifts to doctors is contained within a package of health care reform and cost containment initiatives which was passed unanimously by the Senate in April and is now being examined in the House. If it passes there, it must then be approved by Gov Patrick before it can become law.

Vermont and Minnesota have laws which put monetary limits on such gifts, but Massachusetts would be the first US state to ban them outright. However, the version approved by the Senate does not contain an earlier provision making the offering of gifts a criminal act, although it would still impose a civil fine of up to $5,000. Many legislators, including Speaker DiMasi, are reported to be uncomfortable with the idea of criminalizing such gift-giving.

The bill would require pharmaceutical representatives to be licensed by the Department of Public Health (DPH) and to disclose to the DPH the value, nature and purpose of anything not prohibited by the ban. However, Sen Murray has stressed that the gift ban would not interfere with the efforts of pharmaceutical companies to educate doctors about new drugs and devices.

- In late April, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) executive council called on medical schools to reject gifts, travel and other services from pharmaceutical companies, in order to avoid conflicts of interest.