Heads roll at Novartis over scandal

AFP-JIJI

Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis said Thursday it is replacing the top executives at its Japanese unit over allegations that the division hid the existence of serious potential side effects linked to leukemia treatments from regulators.

David Epstein, head of the firm’s pharmaceutical division, told a news briefing in Tokyo that the senior managers “resigned, they are out of the company,” adding that “this kind of behavior is unacceptable and a clear violation of our code of conduct.”

“I’d like to once again apologize for Novartis’ involvement in this issue,” Epstein said.

The move comes after a panel of outside lawyers hired by the company said earlier Thursday that sales staff at the scandal-hit unit also hid their improper involvement in the drug studies, which were probing possible side effects related to cancer treatments. Such studies should be led by doctors only.

The claims marked another blow for the drugmaker, less than two months after Japanese prosecutors raided its Tokyo office over claims Novartis exaggerated the benefits of a top blood-pressure drug.

In the latest case, the panel found that staff had removed evidence from the Novartis office of their links to the research, which pointed to at least two cases of severe reactions in patients undergoing leukemia drug testing.

On Thursday, the firm said Briton Michael Ferris would replace Hiroko Ishikawa as president of Novartis Holdings Japan, while German Dirk Kosche would replace Yoshiyasu Ninomiya as head of Novartis Pharma, also part of the global firm’s Japan business.