Last updated: April 14, 2014 4:31 pm
GSK denies systemic corruption problem after fresh allegations
GlaxoSmithKline has denied that it has a systemic problem with corruption after fresh bribery allegations against the company emerged in Poland.
The UK drugmaker said it had disciplined an employee in connection with claims that it bribed Polish doctors to promote its asthma drug Seretide.
The Polish case, highlighted by the BBC’s Panorama programme on Monday, shows how GSK has become a lightning rod for scrutiny of illicit practices in the drugs industry since it was accused of funnelling $500m to Chinese doctors and officials.
GSK said it took all such cases seriously but insisted they did not represent a pattern of wrongdoing.
It said the Polish case dated back to 2011 and involved an individual regional sales manager who had since been “reprimanded and disciplined”.
According to Panorama, 11 doctors and one GSK manager have been charged by Poland’s anti-corruption agency over alleged bribery between 2010 and 2012.
Jamie Cartwright, a lawyer at Charles Russell, a law firm, said allegations of bribery in an EU country could catch the attention of authorities in the US and UK, which both have powers to prosecute companies for overseas corruption.
“In Iraq and maybe even China there is perhaps a recognition of the difficult local conditions, but in Poland a company would be expected to uphold the same standards as in any other EU country,” said Mr Cartwright.
In the BBC documentary, Jarek Wisniewski, a former GSK sales representative in the Polish region of Lodz, is quoted as saying: “There is a simple equation . . . we pay doctors, they give us prescriptions. We don’t pay doctors, we don’t see prescriptions for our drugs.
“We cannot go to doctors and say to them, ‘I need 20 more prescriptions’. So we prepare an agreement for them to give a talk to patients, we pay £100, but we expect more than 100 prescriptions for this drug. It’s a bribe,” Mr Wisniewski adds.
GSK said on Monday it had found “evidence of inappropriate communication in contravention of GSK policy by a single employee”.
Lombard on GSK
A ‘zero tolerance policy’ towards impropriety by employees is easier to maintain if you are only dimly aware what they are up to, writes Jonathan Guthrie.
“We continue to investigate these matters and are co-operating fully with [Polish authorities].”
In its latest annual report, GSK revealed that 161 violations of sales and marketing practices were reported in 2013, with 48 people leaving the company as a result.
This is similar to other drugmakers, including AstraZeneca, the Anglo-Swedish company, which reported 149 such cases, and Roche of Switzerland, which declared 136.
GSK last December announced an overhaul of its marketing operations to remove individual sales targets from its representatives and to stop paying doctors to attend medical conferences and make speeches on the company’s behalf.
On Monday the company said: “We agree there is a need to modernise interactions between the pharmaceutical industry and healthcare professionals to ensure patients’ interests are always put first and to eliminate even a perception of a conflict of interest.”