Big Pharma bribery in China now hits Novartis: Claims of faked research and bogus trials

Sunday, September 29, 2013 by: Ethan A. Huff, staff writer
Tags: Big Pharma, bribery, fraudulent research trials

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(NaturalNews) GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is apparently not alone in bribing doctors throughout China to sell more of its products, as new reports indicate that Switzerland-based Novartis has also been caught engaging in this and other illicit activity in recent years. China's 21st Century Business Herald reports that a whistleblower by the pseudonym "Zorro" recently came forward with allegations that Alcon, Novartis' eye care unit, had offered financial kickbacks to at least 200 Chinese hospitals to boost sales of its lens implants.

But the company did not simply offer cash to doctors in exchange for more product referrals. According to Reuters, Alcon got extra crafty by hiring on a third party research company to conduct what its accuser says were "bogus trials." These trials, known as "patient experience surveys," were nothing more than phony marketing surveys created for clinical trials that never actually happened, and doctors who agreed to accept them were given payments in the form of "research fees."

"Alcon employees paid doctors through a middleman for market surveys for clinical trials that never took place," writes Marta Falconi for The Wall Street Journal. "The report said the payments were made to doctors at more than 200 hospitals across China, using funding meant for clinical studies."

Novartis, GSK, Eli Lilly, Sanofi and many others embroiled in fraud allegations

The allegations come amid a number of others directed at major drug companies, including U.S.-based Eli Lilly and Company and Sanofi U.S. -- and of course GSK -- all of which have been accused of infractions ranging from bribery and illegal kickbacks to phony studies and false claims about drug efficacy. Many of these same companies have also been pegged for pushing doctors to prescribe more drugs for off-label use, which is illegal.

Just last month, the 21st Century Business Herald reported on similar accusations, also against Novartis, in which Chinese officials were allegedly bribing doctors to boost sales of a cancer drug known as Sandostatin LAR. And Eli Lilly was targeted around the same time after a former employee of the company, now a whistleblower, claimed it had distributed nearly $5 million to doctors to promote its drugs. And the list goes on and on.

"Corrupt practices among doctors, hospitals and drug companies in China have unnecessarily increased the burden on people trying to get medical services, so this is a very basic livelihood issue," says Joseph Cheng, a political science professor at the City University of Hong Kong, as quoted by Bloomberg.

Big Pharma racket backfiring as drug sales decrease, doctors refuse to meet with sales reps

Alcon denies these latest allegations, of course, insisting that it does not tolerate activities that violate the laws and regulations of the various markets in which it sells products -- the company even conducted its own internal investigation back in 2012 which allegedly found that it was "in compliance" with all appropriate rules and regulations.

But this zero-tolerance policy is apparently ineffective, as Novartis employees have repeatedly been accused of greasing the palms of doctors and others throughout China and elsewhere, as have employees from many other major drug companies.

The good news with all this, though, is that drug companies are starting to think twice about how they conduct business in China, as drug sales continue to plummet with each new report of illegal activity. According to FiercePharma, most of the drug companies currently being investigated are no longer attempting to promote their products in China, for instance, and many doctors in the country are now refusing to meet with drug company sales reps out of fear that there might be repercussions.

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