Sunday, April 08, 2007

New questions about the AstraZeneca scandal.

Question Authority has learned new information about the AstraZeneca scandal involving, Michael Zubillaga, 50, Regional Sales Director, AstraZeneca Oncology.

In an AstraZeneca newsletter, which got Mr. Zubillaga fired the day after the content was revealed on Question Authority, Mr. Zubillaga stated, "There is a big bucket of money sitting in every office. Every time you go in, you reach your hand in the bucket and grab a handful. The more times you are in, the more money goes in your pocket. Every time you make a call, you are looking to make more money."

The person who wrote down Mr. Zubillaga's words, Lisa Mossburg, was not a journalist, nor an in-house public relations person or someone independent of Mr. Zubillaga; she was simply a regular Oncology Sales Representative, Question Authority has learned from a source inside AstraZeneca.

If true, for a Regional Sales Director to use company resources and ask one of his subordinates to write up what he may initially hoped was a flattering story about himself, raises a number of additional questions, and at a minimum would appear unseemly.

The fact that "this newsletter was produced outside of AstraZeneca's required approval and review processes," according to AstraZeneca, also raises numerous questions about AstraZeneca's internal control system as it relates to the conduct of AstraZeneca's senior management and what kind of cowboy mentality exists within AstraZeneca's US organization.

More importantly, Question Authority has also learned that there have allegedly been several Code of Conduct (888 244-1769) reports from employees about Mike Zubillaga since November of 2006. Two or three of these reports allegedly involved Mr. Zubillaga's instructions to use Medical Science Liaisons (called Regional Scientific Managers at AstraZeneca) to sell off-label and for reps to coordinate these efforts using cell phones (allegedly to avoid voicemail and email so as to not leave a permanent record).

If true, AstraZeneca should have investigated and filed a report with the Office of the Inspector General, since on June 4, 2003, AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals LP and AstraZeneca LP was forced to enter into a Corporate Integrity Agreement (“CIA”) with the Office of Inspector General (“OIG”) of the United States Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”), based on prior illegal conduct.

The CIA is effective until June 3, 2008, and under the agreement, Mr. Zubillaga would have received extensive training in how to market and sell pharmaceuticals. More importantly, if AstraZeneca determines through any means that there is a reportable event, (such as a Regional Sales Director accused of off-label marketing), AstraZeneca must notify OIG in writing, within 30 days.

It will be interesting to find out if AstraZeneca took any such action with respect to the allegations above.

If the company received such notices and did not take such action, AstraZeneca may be in breach of their agreement with the OIG, and would have to pay certain fines. If the OIG decided that AstraZeneca was in Material Breach of the agreement, AstraZeneca could be excluded from participation in Federal health care programs.

Please note that the alleged code of conduct violations may have no foundation, they may have been fully investigated and dismissed by AstraZeneca, or they may still be under investigation. They may also have already been reported to the OIG.

What can be verified is that this statement, "Sorry, I'm not willing to face civil or criminal fines for MZ or anyone else. AZ is currently under close scrutiny by the Office of Inspector General under a five year Corporated Integrity Agreement" was made on March 7, 2007, one month ago on AstraZeneca's message board for sales reps and that a vigorous debate appear to have taken place on that tread about "MZ," and how "MZ" conducted his business.

One response was this: "I am sure MZ is scared of you little cowards, remember management never takes the fall it is always the reps so call the number and most of you will be let go by the end of the week, just comply and you will be rewarded."

That comment was followed by this one: "That Number is BS I called it once to report an HR person. The next thing I new I got thrown under the bus by my rsd and dsm."

Chilling comments, indeed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It may have been investigated but the question is by who? The scenario I can see happening is the person who outed the BIG Zube was waiting for the right moment. Maybe this person has complained in the past. Maybe the same corporate hacks in HR, legal, or God forbid the CIA lawyers. They probably said a complete investigation was done and some mistakes were made but did not rise to the level of fraud and abuse. They may have gone so far as to ask the BIG Zube and the clinical people to attend a one day compliance workshop. The person who blew the whistle is then left wondering if they were honest, did the name leak out
(and surely it did)what would be next? Retaliation baby!!! Slow, subtle, simmering revenge the slower more painful the better. This is the scenario that brought me to publicly stand up against these managers. Only the people being retaliated against know the isolation, whispering, and ulimately being forced to quit...just for doing the right thing. I will say without a doubt retaliation will drive a person to the FBI, OIG, and HHS faster than it will drive them to a lawyer. They know workplace retaliation is misunderstood and rarely resolved but we who experience it know it and pray for the time when the right thing will be done. The right thing takes many forms and usually happens by sending documents to someone who can make it happen...not usually the company you work for..sad but true. I am painting one way this might have come about but definitely a realistic one. Thanks aagain to Peter for inspiring me and others to do the right thing.... retaliation is real and it sucks.