Some would say that when the manager of biostatistics of a multi-billion-dollar pharmaceutical corporation tells you that there is something wrong with the data you’re using to bring a drug to market, you might want to listen to that person. However, if allegations in a new lawsuit against GlaxoSmithKline are proven true, the other option is to try to get away with firing the biostatistician and move on.
Such are the accusations brought by Alexandre Selmani, a manager with the pharmaceutical giant and an employee since 2006. As detailed in a recent Bloomberg article, Selmani tried at least twice to bring problems to light regarding the data used in Nicoderm research, a popular smoking cessation aid.
The product had been on the market for years prior to the discovery. Nicoderm lozenges had been sold in the United States since as early as 2002. Some $339 million worth of Nicoderm was sold in the United Kingdom in 2009. These sales represent billions of dollars on a global scale over the product’s lifetime.
So, when Mr. Selmani tried raising the alarm with his supervisors about errors in the statistics being used in Nicoderm data, he was supposedly met with a not-so-warm reception. Rather than give up, Selmani claims he contacted the CEO directly.
In an email composed to GSK CEO Andrew Witty, Selmani states that the design of studies used in Nicoderm research have the “capacity to cause negative consequences and potential health and safety issues for the general public.”
GSK was, of course, very concerned with these findings. They acted decisively, but not in the way you’d expect a responsible corporate citizen to act. Rather than investigate their data and determine if Selmani’s concerns were valid, GSK cut his salary and his bonus and eventually outright fired him according to the former employee.
In light of all of this, GSK spokeswoman Pamela McKinlay wants to reaffirm the company’s commitment to the public good. GSK “goes to great lengths to promote ethics and compliance in the workplace,” she says. The corporation “also continually educate[s] [their] employees about how they can report complaints so they can be appropriately investigated.”
Mr. Selmani has sued GSK as a result of his firing and named Andrew Witty as a defendant in the case. We anxiously await the chance to learn more about GSK’s focus and concern for the health of the general public and the events that led to Selmani’s termination. It should be noted that New Jersey law specifically protects whistleblowers and makes it illegal to punish or fire a whistleblower in retaliation for their actions.