Novartis has been the latest drug firm that are involved in the ongoing investigation of commercial bribery by pharmaceutical companies in China. [File photo]
Swiss drug giant Novartis is alleged to have offered bribes to doctors in some Chinese hospitals to drive sales for one of its oncology medicines.
A sales representative who used to work for Novartis claimed she was ordered by her manager to secure 650,000 yuan (US$104,839) of sales of Novartis' Sandostatin LAR by providing 50,000 yuan of "funds" to doctors, the 21st Century Business Herald reported yesterday.
Sandostatin LAR is used to treat rare cancers of the stomach, intestine or pancreas.
The saleswoman, only identified by the pseudonym "Li Li," told the newspaper that the sales targets for Sandostatin LAR would be raised every month.
She said she felt she couldn't achieve the sales target for July and her superior advised her to give kickbacks to doctors prescribing five doses of Sandostatin LAR and secure 50 doses of sales by spending 50,000 yuan in June and July. She said these sales targets were hard to meet under "ordinary practices," meaning medical training for doctors to raise their awareness of Novartis drugs and thus lift sales.
She said she was also asked to persuade doctors to prescribe the drug to patients with off-label diseases, or illnesses not included in the list of those targeted by the medicine.
Li Li said she had filed for a termination of her labor contract with Novartis in Beijing after she hadn't received a proper response to her request to resign.
In a statement, Novartis said the saleswoman had started work in its oncology business unit in January this year and was in charge of sales to major hospitals in northeastern China.
Novartis said it was dealing with the resignation according to China's Labor Law and company regulations yet the employee had made a claim for compensation in the amount of 5 million yuan at the end of July. The company told the newspaper that it would take disciplinary action if there was any misconduct or infringement of its own regulations and Chinese law.
The Novartis allegations follow claims by a whistleblower last week that French drug firm Sanofi had been offering "research grants" totaling 1.7 million yuan to at least 500 doctors in 79 hospitals in China.
How to define the boundary between such "clinical research grants" and bribery is key to the case, medical experts said.
The Shanghai Health and Family Planning Commission said it has required local hospitals to carry out self checks and the commission is monitoring hospitals on their connections with Sanofi between 2007 and 2013, the use of drugs from Sanofi and payments made.
Sanofi said it would cooperate in the investigation but said that post-marketing surveillance of drugs was normal practice.