In the latest move to increase transparency, Eli Lilly will become the first pharmaceutical company to disclose payments to physicians in the USA next year.

The move comes just over four months after Lilly became the first firm to endorse the heavily-revised Physician Payments Sunshine Act, sponsored by US Senators Charles Grassley (Republican-Iowa) and Herbert Kohl (Democrat-Wisconsin). The legislation was watered down to make pharmaceutical firms and devicemakers declare gifts over $500 a year made to doctors, compared to the $25 limit suggested in a previous draft.

The revised bill, which would establish a national registry of payments and allow for fines for each violation, has not been passed yet but Lilly chief executive John Lechleiter said that the company has decided to act independently of the Sunshine Act. He noted that “being more transparent by opening up our business to the public is an important step to building trust and confidence”.

Dr Lechleiter said that "with each of our industry firsts, from launching our clinical trials registry to the public reporting of educational grants, Lilly is striving to be a leader in improving transparency across our industry". He added that "we've learned that letting people see for themselves what we're doing is the best way to build trust”.

Under the Lilly registry plan, the public will have access to an internet database listing the firm’s payments to physicians and when it is launched, in the second half of 2009, it will include the sums paid to doctors that year who serve the company as speakers and advisors. By 2011, the company says it plans to expand “the reporting capabilities” of the registry to resemble the Sunshine Act legislation and it will be updated annually.

Dr Lechleiter noted that many physicians “perform valuable services for the biopharmaceutical industry by advising us on the development of new medicines” and giving lectures to other medical professionals to educate them about the new drugs. “For these services, they are compensated at market rates,” he added, and these services “help to advance the science related to medicines”.

The company’s stance was applauded by Sen Kohl who said that Lilly “is leading the charge for transparency” by fulfilling the obligations of the Sunshine Act before it has been enacted. He added that "it takes a lot of courage to be the first. They have made a principled decision that I believe will benefit both their business and the consumers of their products."