GlaxoSmithKlein – an endemic culture of fraud?

GSK the UK pharmaceutical to deodorant company is fast making a name for itself with brand values that include bribery, fraud and corruption, plus a fair smattering of junk science thrown in for good measure.

You would think that one bribery case would be enough to force the board to review its whole business strategy worldwide – especially as getting caught in America was extremely serious. The criminal fraud case involved a variety of drugs and issues such as making false claims, ‘exaggerating’ research conclusions, telling lies and bribery. That case in America cost them $3 billion plus change. Well, it was the largest fraud case in medical history. At this point, most boards of companies would be looking at themselves and putting ‘best practice’ into place to avoid any chance of a repetition.

But it doesn’t seem quite like this at GSK. Over the past months allegations of fraud, bribing doctors and even sex scandals have emerged in the great frontier market of China. A whistleblower sent an e mail in January alleging that doctors were sent expensive gifts and even cash. They would be invited to attend conferences, which were really all-expenses-paid holidays. (Isn’t this exactly what happens in Europe and America?). And payments were allegedly channeled through a ‘travel agency’ business. Hardly dodgy at all, really.

After a Private detective, Peter Humphrey, hired by GSK to investigate a smear campaign against them, reported that he thought claims might well be true and he himself was jailed this week for buying and selling private information, the likely outcome in China looks not much better than it did in America. Chinese authorities have filed criminal charges of bribery, corruption and fraud against Mark Reilly, the former head of GSK operations in China with the Serious Fraud Squad crawling all over the company – the UK is now helping their Chinese counterparts.

Such allegations, if proven, would also bring the American Authorities back into play. The US Dept. of Justice is now looking into possible breaches of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Britain may also investigate as it has a new ‘Bribery Act’.

But now GSK faces new corruption claims in Syria where it is alleged to have bribed doctors and officials to drive sales. Of course, there are some that would say that GSK was just being caught up in politics, given the war and views on Britain held locally. But then GlaxoSmithKlein is also being investigated for bribery in Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and Poland.

GSK has issued a statement saying that they are ‘committed to taking disciplinary actions’ if guilt is proven and that they have ‘zero tolerance’ of unethical behavior. One wonders quite who it is that has the ‘zero tolerance’?

And isn’t this all huff and puff? Par for the course? Peter C. Gotzsche, a Danish Medical researcher and leader of the prestigious Nordic Cochrane Centre has written a complete review of the atrocities that Big Pharma routinely get up to in his book, Deadly Medicines and Organised Crime: How Big Pharma has Corrupted Healthcare (first published 2013; ISBN 9781846198847). You can guess the atrocities he talks about. Anyone with an open mind knew them long ago.

We have covered GSK in Junk Science before – that time they had been in top medical journal, BMJ, with the finding that 80% of flu vaccine research did not hold up to proper scrutiny.

We also covered this: Just a decade ago Dr. Allen Roses the worldwide Vice President of genetics and a top executive of the pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline stated simply that “The vast majority of drugs – more than 90% – only work in 30 to 50% of the people.”

Isn’t that the crux of the problem? If GSK made wonderful drugs that worked for the majority of people, why would doctors need to be bribed to use them? Maybe the drugs aren’t that wonderful; and/or maybe all the competitors are playing the same games too?

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Scientists blow the whistle on drug and vaccine fraud

It seems some scientists at least are feeling guilty about their role in vaccine and drug research. And Big Pharma is on the receiving end of some pretty hefty fraud payouts. Some people think that’s not enough and that corrupt CEOs should even go to jail.

Just a decade ago Dr. Allen Roses the worldwide Vice President of genetics and a top executive of the pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline stated simply that “The vast majority of drugs – more than 90% – only work in 30 to 50% of the people.” If that’s the case, how could such large volumes of drugs be sold worldwide?

It’s not just drugs that might be ineffective. In 2010 two Merck scientists Stephen Krahling and Joan Wlochowski, both former Merck virologists, filed a False Claims Act which has just been opened – in it claiming that vaccine manufacturer Merck knowingly falsified its mumps vaccine test data, spiked blood samples with animal antibodies, sold a vaccine that actually promoted mumps and measles outbreaks, and ripped off governments and consumers who bought the vaccine thinking it was ‘95% effective’. Forbes Magazine (June 2012) stated, “scientists claim Merck defrauded the U.S. government by causing it to purchase an estimated four million doses of mislabelled and misbranded MMR vaccine per year for at least a decade, and helped ignite two recent mumps outbreaks that the allegedly ineffective vaccine was intended to prevent in the first place”.

In July 2012 The New York Times was reporting yet more Pharmaceutical company fraud: “In the largest settlement involving a pharmaceutical company, the British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKlein agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges and pay $3 billion in fines for promoting its best-selling antidepressants for unapproved uses and failing to report safety data about a top diabetes drug, federal prosecutors announced Monday. The agreement also includes civil penalties for improper marketing of a half-dozen other drugs”.

“What we’re learning is that money doesn’t deter corporate malfeasance,” said Eliot Spitzer, who, as New York’s attorney general, sued GlaxoSmithKline in 2004 over similar accusations involving Paxil. “The only thing that will work in my view is C.E.O.’s and officials being forced to resign and individual culpability being enforced.”

This case was brought to light by four former Glaxo scientists, Greg Thorpe, Blair Hamrick, Thomas Gerahty and Matthew Burke who were in line to receive a share of the fine under the Federal False Claims Act, a US law dating back to the Civil War that allows whistleblowers to receive a portion of money the government recovers when prosecuting fraud.

Skeptics silent while Rome burns

But it gets worse. While self-opinionated Skeptic trolls like pharmacologist Professor David Colquhoun, IT nerd Guy Chapman and his joined-at-the-hip muse Josephine Jones hardly mention a word about such underhand practices yet bore the world with their subjective views on naughty homeopathy and complementary therapies, people in the real world have to suffer repeated attacks by errant pharmaceutical companies, out to profit from illness and misfortune.

Now Big Pharma turns its attentions to South East Asia

Now Erika Kelton, a lawyer who specialises in whistleblower cases, writing in Forbes shows that Big Pharma has turned its attentions to South East Asia and China, where life seems a little easier for Big Pharma to follow their dodgy practices. In an article entitled ‘Is Big Pharma addicted to fraud?’ she writes “First, Chinese authorities announced they were investigating GlaxoSmithKlein and other pharma companies for bribing doctors, hospitals and government officials to buy and prescribe their drugs. Glaxo is accused of using a Shanghai travel agency to funnel at least $489 million in bribes.

Then The New York Times revealed last week the alarming news that an internal Glaxo audit found serious problems with the way research was conducted at the company’s Shanghai research and development center.

Last year Glaxo paid $3 billion to resolve civil and criminal allegations of, among other things, marketing widely used prescription drugs for unapproved treatments and using kickbacks to promote sales.
And in 2009, Glaxo paid $750 million to resolve civil and criminal charges that quality failures led to serious contamination of drug products at its manufacturing operations in Puerto Rico.

Chinese officials say they are investigating other foreign companies for similar charges. Merck, Roche Holding and Sanofi SA confirm they used the same travel agency as Glaxo, but they haven’t been accused of wrongdoing.

Meanwhile, AstraZeneca — which previously reported that it is under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department — said last week that police in Shanghai questioned two company sales managers, but “we have no reason to believe it is related to the other investigations.”

If the bribery accusations are true, the pharma companies could face charges in the US for violating the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, an anti-bribery law, as well as charges by Chinese authorities. Last year, Pfizer paid $60.2 million and Eli Lilly & Co. paid $29.4 million to the US to settle allegations they had bribed government officials, including hospital administrators and government doctors, in China and other countries to approve and prescribe their products.”

Perhaps it is about time ‘skeptics’ like Colquhoun, Josephine Jones and Homeopathy troll Guy Chapman started writing blogs that reflect real patient concerns.

According to online Biospectrum : In the last three years, global pharma giants have paid fines to the tune of $11 billion for criminal wrongdoing, including withholding safety data and promoting drugs for use, beyond any licensed condition. (http://www.biospectrumasia.com/biospectrum/analysis/192973/worlds-big-pharma-frauds#.Uku-qNKBnqE) This website also provides the ‘Six Stories that have scarred the Pharmaceutical Industry forever’

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