Three senior executives noted for fraudulent drug marketing practices while at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) have since moved on to take high-level positions at some of Europe's leading pharmaceutical companies. The men were singled out for illegally marketing the asthma drug Advair as part of the Justice Department's investigation into GSK misconduct that led to the company's historic $3 billion settlement with the government.
In a complaint filed by the Justice Department in Boston federal court on July 2, the government cited Jean-Pierre Garnier, Chris Viehbacher and Stanley Hull, all former GSK executives for, "Implementing the off-label promotion of Advair." Two of the three men in question, Garnier and Viehlbacher, now play lead roles in European drug companies. Garnier is now chairman of Swiss pharmaceutical company Actelion Ltd. and Viehbacher is CEO of the third biggest drug manufacturer in Europe, Sanofi.
According to government charges, between 2001 and 2010, GSK promoted Advair for the treatment of all asthma patients, even though the drug only had FDA approval for treatment of individuals with severe cases. The Justice Department complaint said, "The direction to target mild and newly diagnosed patients for first-line Advair use came from the highest level of the company and was reiterated by the company's senior management." According to the federal filing, Viehbacher told GSK investors in 2004 that, "The real opportunity for us with Advair is that we can now convince physicians that there is no such thing as mild or severe asthma; you have asthma."
In 2003, the FDA placed a black-box warning on Advair stating that data showed "a small but significant increase in asthma-related deaths" in patients being treated with the drug. In 2006, Garnier told investors that the warning was, "not meaningful and (was) not going to have a big effect (on profits). I think products such as Advair are phenomenal for the treatment of asthma, and they should be used for mild to moderate and severe asthmatics. Physicians are not going to listen to the FDA."
Despite being censured for these types of statements, no official charges have been laid against the three men, and GSK's financial settlement will officially lay any allegations of misconduct to rest. Viehbacher quit GSK in 2008 to join Sanofi; Garnier retired that same year, but only joined Actelion in 2011. Hull now serves on the board of the New Jersey based Palatin Technologies drug firm.
It is shocking that executives with this track record of misconduct should be allowed to continue as leaders in the pharmaceutical industry. At Arnold & Itkin, our drug injury attorneys work to hold pharmaceutical companies and their employees personally accountable for behavior such as this that puts consumers' health in danger. If you or a loved one has been injured by a dangerous drug, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact our office today for a free consultation.