- Swiss drugmaker Novartis allegedly paid a Turkish consulting firm $290,000 in bribes to get drugs added to formularies and avoid price cuts, according to an email by a whistleblower first reported by Reuters. The bribes, reportedly paid to Alp Aydin Consultancy, may have helped Novartis secure $85 million in benefits.
- The anonymous whistleblower sent a 5,000-word email to CEO Joe Jimenez and the chairman of Novartis’ audit and compliance committee in February, and again in March, reports Reuters.
- The consultancy was allegedly able to place Novartis MS, chronic lung disease, and arthritis drugs on hospital formularies. It also helped the drugmaker obtain approval from the Turkish government to change the name of its drugs Ilaris and Gilenya, thereby avoiding international pricing comparisons.
Bad timing for Novartis. This newest report comes on top of a recent $25 million settlement with the U.S government which implicated Novartis in a bribery scandal in China. The drugmaker is also facing charges in U.S. District Court that it provided illegal kickbacks to physicians through roughly 80,000 events which were used as a cover to encourage prescriptions of Novartis drugs.
Furthermore, last year Novartis paid $390 million to settle a kickback case involving tactics to increase sales of Myfortic, Exjade, Tasigna, Gleevec and TOBI.
Novartis apparently severed its ties to the consultancy after the Turkish Social Security Institution launched an investigation. According to the report from Reuters, Jimenez replied to the whistleblower email with a terse reply saying “We will investigate.”
"We take any allegation of inappropriate behavior extremely seriously and investigate all allegations thoroughly. As a matter of policy we don’t comment on such investigations even if the complainant decides to make them public," Novartis spokesperson Eric Althoff said in an emailed statement.
Of course, Novartis is not alone in dealing with bribery investigations. Last year, GSK was embroiled in a bribery scandal in China, ending up paying almost $500 million in fines. Bristol-Myers Squibb has changed its approach in China as well, reportedly ending payments to doctors after settling bribery allegations with the SEC for $14 million in October 2015.
Novartis, like other multinational biopharma companies, is in the challenging position of trying to police business activities across a wide range of business settings.
Reuters was unable to independently confirm the amounts cited by the whistleblower.