Sunday, April 08, 2007

The AstraZeneca "Bucket of Money" Scandal: More Employees to be Fired?

AstraZeneca has issued a statement to the press saying among other things:

"...Our company is disturbed by the content and particularly concerned about the impact the content of this unapproved newsletter may have on our employees and others. In addition, we are concerned that a manager in our sales organization used this vehicle to communicate messages that directly contravene our core values as a responsible pharmaceutical company.
Our investigation into the development and distribution of this newsletter continues, in an effort to determine whether our current policies and procedures regarding AstraZeneca communications are being adhered to by employees..."

This statement indicates that more people may be fired in this evolving scandal. For instance, who did approve the newsletter? If anyone did, such a person might be in trouble. And who is "Lisa Mossburg" who did the interview with "Zube"? Finally, what did other Regional Sales Directors write in their newsletters? Every one is now being carefully scrutinized.

Most noteworthy in this scandal is how swiftly AstraZeneca reacted and fired Regional Sales Director Michael Zubillaga, 50, the day after his comments appeared on this blog. It is noteworthy, because clearly the offensive AstraZeneca Oncology Newsletter had been in circulation since "Winter 2007," which can be assumed to have been the January-February 2007 time period. So AstraZeneca had plenty of time to react, but didn't.

When they did react, however, they were caught with their pants down as the embarrassing newsletter became public knowledge on this blog.

Every major drug company has an extensive review process, consisting of legal, regulatory, medical and other departments, which have to approve any printed material going to doctors and to the sales force.

Any Regional Sales Director would be well aware of this review process; RSD is a senior job with often around one hundred sales representatives reporting in to this position, which in turn normally reports to the Vice President of Sales. Salary is commensurate with this experience; base pay of $150 to over $200k, bonus of $75 to $150k and stock option often valued at more than $100k per year.

An Oncology sales force usually has fewer sales representatives, but since this a lucrative field, the money they pull in is significant. So Mr. Zubillaga was a senior executive, who had been around the block a few times, and had also spent time in AstraZeneca headquarters; he knew the ropes.

And he would clearly not use those ropes to hang himself.

The reasonable conclusion is that there was nothing unusual in his comments, instead, the fact that he was caught was his biggest violation. He inadvertently violated the industry's own code of Omerta--the code of silence. This is also supported by the record number of people voting on PharmaGossip's poll, which I have reproduced below with a direct link to the poll itself. A majority felt the "Zube" should not have been fired and that AstraZeneca was covering up for something the company started.

The fact that mention on a blog such as this one gets a man fired the next day also demonstrates the rapid shift in the media landscape. By the way, the New York Times asked me if the story was really true, but before that big newspaper could react, the guy was already fired.

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