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Lilly drawn into China bribery scandal

Published on 22/08/13 at 01:56pm

A Chinese newspaper has published fresh allegations about pharma bribery in the country, this time relating to US firm Eli Lilly.

The 21st Century Business Herald is reporting a former senior sales manager for the company, identified by the pseudonym Wang Wei, as saying that bribery and illegal payments at Lilly’s China operations ‘were widespread’.

The Chinese newspaper allege Lilly spent more than 30 million yuan ($4.9 million) to bribe doctors in China to prescribe the firm’s medicines instead of rival products.

Wang was quoted in the Herald as saying: “In order to hit sales at rival companies and push the company’s own products, bribes and special payments of all sorts were extremely common at the company. The level of the problem was just as bad as at GlaxoSmithKline.”

The Chinese sales manager also told the paper that his former firm paid hospital doctors in Shanghai and Anhui for each new patient placed on diabetes drugs Humulin and Byetta, as it fought for market share against its rival Novo Nordisk.

The company said it was ‘deeply concerned’ over the accusations, adding in a statement: “Although we have not been able to verify these allegations, we take them seriously, and we are continuing our investigation.”

This comes a year after Lilly paid $29 million to US authorities in order to settle legal claims of corrupt practices abroad, including falsified expenses in China during 2006 and 2009.

These fines related to the firm paying for sales reps to provide gifts, meals and visits to bath houses for doctors.

China continues pharma bribery hunt

This is now the fourth pharma firm in the region to fall under China’s corruption probe, which is also investigating GSK, Sanofi and Novartis.

It all began in late June when GSK was accused by Chinese authorities that it has transferred as much as 3 billion yuan ($490 million) to around 700 travel agencies and consultancies since 2007, and used the money as bribes to doctors and hospitals.

Meanwhile Sanofi was accused last week by a whistle-blower of bribing more than 500 Chinese doctors with about 1.7 million yuan ($277,600) of payments, all intended to raise sales of medicines in the country.

And Novartis, also last week, was alleged by another whistle-blower to have paid bribes to doctors to boost drug sales, prompting the Swiss company to launch an internal investigation.

Ben Adams


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