Despite threats to take medical industry conventions elsewhere and full-page ads in the Boston Globe last year warning of the “chilling effect” of the Massachusetts gift restrictions and disclosure law on the states convention industry and greater economic health, the Globe reports today that one of the major forces behind the threats, the Biotechnology Industry Organization – BIO – has come right back to the Bay State for its 2012 international convention.

“The gift ban still has a chilling effect,’’ Massachusetts Biotechnology Council chair Robert Coughlin told the Globe. “Fortunately, this convention primarily attracts biotech workers and researchers, not doctors, so it wasn’t a major factor.’’

But to hear Coughlin and others talk just months ago, one couldn’t be blamed for thinking it was the only factor standing between a vibrant drug and device industry and economic doom and gloom. “Massachusetts is now seen as the most unfriendly state in the nation toward industry,’’ Coughlin said in March, as the Massachusetts Department of Health prepared to pass the final regulations.

The law, which took effect July 1, 2009, bans companies from giving marketing gifts to physicians –putting into law what PhRMA had already sworn off in its voluntary code.  It also requires drug and device companies to disclose payments above $50 to physicians that will be made available to the public, while exempting certain types of legitimate research payments. All along, the authors of this bill and the regulators at DPH who implemented it took express care to protect both patient treatment and innovation, and the BIO announcement is powerful proof of that.

Another headline in the Globe today highlighted the importance of Massachusetts’ new law (and of proposals like the federal Physician Payments Sunshine Act): data disclosed by Eli Lilly showed that the drugmaker paid 60 Massachusetts physicians half a million dollars in the first quarter of this year to be on speakers’ bureaus, including two physicians at Boston Medical Center for whom such a gig is prohibited by BMC’s strong conflict-of-interest policy.  Such disclosure is not only good for patients, who have the right to know whether their doctors are doing marketing for drug companies,  but serves as an important crosscheck tool for medical centers and other research organizations aiming to curb the marketing relationships of their faculty and staff.

Kate Petersen, PostScript blogger