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GSK faces investigation by UK Serious Fraud Office

GSK's corporate headquarters in Brentford, London (Mark Thomas/Science Photo Library)

GSK thinks the alleged bribery cases are “isolated” and not indicative of a “systemic problem” across the company

The Serious Fraud Office has launched a formal criminal investigation into the commercial practices of GlaxoSmithKline, the UK’s largest pharmaceutical company, following cases of alleged bribery in other jurisdictions.

A spokesperson for the SFO says that it had been looking at the issue for some time based on numerous sources of information. GSK says it is “co-operating fully” with the SFO, but that it still does not have any details of the investigation.

The SFO is looking at alleged GSK practices in a “number of jurisdictions”, but it will not disclose which countries. The UK Bribery Act, which came into force in 2010, allows the SFO to look at company practices in other jurisdictions.

Corruption and bribery allegations around GSK practices have been reported in several countries, including China, Iraq, Poland and Lebanon.

In 2013, some of GSK’s sales representatives were accused of committing bribery in China and this is part of an ongoing police investigation.

In April 2014, the BBC’s current affairs programme Panorama reported alleged corruption in Poland relating to how medical education programmes for doctors were being used to promote GSK’s asthma treatment Seretide. GSK investigated the matter and found “evidence of inappropriate communication” by a single employee, who was disciplined in 2011.

In Lebanon, the allegations involved a GSK employee offering perks to doctors to attend conferences.

A GSK spokesperson says that these are “isolated” cases and there is not a “systemic problem” across the organisation. The company says it has introduced changes to its working practices. At the end of 2013, it decided to stop paying doctors to speak about its products after concerns about perceived conflicts of interest. It is also planning to stop paying for individual doctors to attend medical conferences.

In addition, the company is changing its sales practices by taking out the “link” between sales targets and bonuses for sales representatives. Representatives will be measured on the “quality of information provided to doctors rather than sales measures”, the GSK spokesperson says.

Investigations can take several years before prosecutions are initiated, an SFO spokesperson says. For example, the SFO’s investigation into DePuy (Johnson & Johnson) over the sale of its orthopaedic products in Greece started in 2007 and resulted in a £4.8m fine for the company in 2011.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2014.11138707

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