Blowing the Whistle on Illegal Behavior in Big Pharma

By discovering the next "miracle" pharmaceutical, drug companies not only improve many people's lives, but also stand to earn substantial profits. While it is important that companies be compensated for the time and effort spent developing and testing new drugs, the desire to earn profit can also lead drug companies to cut corners while investigating the safety of new drugs, cherry-pick data, mislead about test results and ultimately put many people at risk of being catastrophically injured by new drugs.

The law does, however, provide protection for employees and scientists in the pharmaceutical industry who blow the whistle on unethical and illegal behavior. It is illegal to retaliate against these whistleblowers.

PanHER Case

While the drug PanHER was being tested by Pfizer as a cancer treatment, an executive discovered problems with the research, reports Courthouse News Service. Specifically, the executive found hundreds of instances of prohibited drugs being used by people in the study and also noticed that adverse events caused by PanHER were not reported to the Food and Drug Administration. Because of the use of prohibited drugs by the test patients, the result of the study of PanHER was misleading, and potentially grossly inaccurate.

The executive brought these findings to her superiors at Pfizer, who reportedly did nothing to rectify the errors. The executive claims that after the findings were reported, the company created a hostile work environment. The executive did transfer out of the PanHER program, but was ultimately fired from the drug company.

After being fired, the executive filed a lawsuit, Ferretti v. Pfizer , claiming that Pfizer retaliated against her for doing the right thing and blowing the whistle on the test results.

California Law

California law prohibits an employer from retaliating against an employee who "discloses a violation or noncompliance with a state or federal statute, rule, or regulation." Further, an employer is prohibited from retaliating against an employee who refuses to participate in "an activity that would result in a violation of state or federal statute, or a violation or noncompliance with a state or federal rule or regulation." Strict federal rules and regulations govern the testing process for new drugs, to ensure that only safe medications are marketed.

Retaliation can take many forms, including:

  • Discharge
  • Failure to promote
  • Demotion
  • Suspension

In the pharmaceutical industry, whistleblower protections could potentially save millions of people from the harmful side effects of an unsafe drug. However, these whistleblower protections are not limited to just employees looking to protect the health and safety of others, but also can protect whistleblowers who disclose other illegal or fraudulent activities.

Sadly, the PanHER case is not the exception in the pharmaceutical industry, and corner cutting is a major concern to consumers. Recently, large pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline was fined $3 billion for promoting and selling antidepressants for uses not approved by the Food and Drug Administration and not fully disclosing safety data concerning one of its diabetes drugs, according to the New York Times.

If you have information that your employer is engaging in illegal or fraudulent activity or is otherwise lying or providing false information to a government agency, speak with an attorney to find out if you can blow the whistle without fear of retaliation.