September 20, 2012
The global pharmaceutical industry has racked up fines of more than $11bn in the past three years for criminal wrongdoing, including withholding safety data and promoting drugs for use beyond their licensed conditions.
In all, 26 companies, including eight of the 10 top players in the global industry, have been found to be acting dishonestly. The scale of the wrongdoing, revealed for the first time, has undermined public and professional trust in the industry and is holding back clinical progress, according to two papers published in today’s New England Journal of Medicine. Leading lawyers have warned that the multibillion-dollar fines are not enough to change the industry’s behaviour.
The 26 firms are under “corporate integrity agreements”, which are imposed in the US when healthcare wrongdoing is detected, and place the companies on notice for good behaviour for up to five years.
The largest fine of $3bn, imposed on the UK-based company GlaxoSmith-Kline in July after it admitted three counts of criminal behaviour [For fraud!] in the US courts, was the largest ever. But GSK is not alone – nine other companies have had fines imposed, ranging from $420m on Novartis to $2.3bn on Pfizer since 2009, totalling over $11bn.
Kevin Outterson, a lawyer at Boston University, says that despite the eye watering size of the fines they amount to a small proportion of the companies’ total revenues and may be regarded as a “cost of doing business”. The $3bn fine on GSK represents 10.8 per cent of its revenue while the $1.5bn fine imposed on Abbott Laboratories, for promoting a drug (Depakote) with inadequate evidence of its effectiveness, amounted to 12 per cent.