French drug maker Sanofi suspected of bribery

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Sanofi has been reportedly making briberies to doctors in China. [File photo]

Sanofi has been reportedly making briberies to doctors in China. [File photo]

French drug company Sanofi has been dragged into recent pharmaceutical scandal in China after a news report said it paid about 1.69 million yuan (US$0.28 milion) in bribery to more than 500 doctors in China in 2007.

An anonymous whistleblower told the 21st Century Business Herald that Sanofi employees bribed 503 doctors at 79 hospitals in Shanghai, Beijing, Hangzhou and Guangzhou in late 2007.

The payments were made under the name of "research fees or grants" involving two cardiovascular drugs, according to the whistleblower.

The payments seem to have been made during the post marketing surveillance period of the two drugs, according to material provided by the whistleblower identified as "Bacon," the newspaper reported.

The drugs were identified as Irbesartan and Hydrochlorothiazide tablets, both used to treat high blood pressure.

"Post marketing surveillance helps provide further understanding about the therapeutic value of the new drug and provides valuable scientific data for doctors so that they can develop appropriate individual therapy regimens for patients," Sanofi said in response to the report.

The company said efforts to review and address the issue were under way as it took the allegations "seriously" but added that it would be premature to comment on events that may have occurred in 2007.

According to industry insiders, post marketing surveillance is common after the introduction of new drugs and sometimes doctors do get paid by drug companies for their research efforts.

The material provided by the whistleblower detailed payments to individual doctors in various hospital departments which varied according to the number of patients who were prescribed the medicine, the newspaper reported. Most of the doctors worked in cardiology departments.

The hospitals named included Shanghai's Ruijin Hospital, Zhongshan Hospital and the Peking Union Medical College Hospital.

According to the whistleblower, the largest amount received by a single doctor was 11,200 yuan.

Of the 79 hospitals, 28 are in Beijing, 24 in Shanghai, 11 in Hangzhou and 16 in Guangzhou.

The material also recorded Sanofi's sales targets from May to October in 2007 and the actual sales figures for the two drugs in major hospitals in Beijing and the corresponding payments for each hospital.

The company is said to have paid 40 doctors in five hospitals 27,650 yuan over the five months in the name of shopping cards, dining fees and office supplies.

The Sanofi claims come amid an ongoing investigation into UK drug giant GlaxoSmithKline. Chinese police have detained four GSK executives in China who are allegedly involved in the commercial bribery scandal.

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