Friday, July 20, 2007

Interview with Novartis Whistleblower's attorney

Yesterday I wrote the story Novartis Fired Whistleblower Who Then Met With FDA: Cancer Drug Approval Delayed.

Today I had an opportunity to speak to David Olagunu's attorney, William J. Courtney, Esq., who has practiced employment law in NJ for over twenty years.

Courtney told me this was a "classic example" of how companies go through the motions when they try to fire a whistleblower. He said that soon after Olagunju started bringing his concerns to Novartis' management, his performance rating went down and he was eventually put on a performance improvement plan and then terminated.

Olagunju is a twenty-year industry veteran with no history of whistleblowing or problems with anyone through his distinguished career, but clearly that changed when he started to object to Novartis' treatment of clinical data they provide to the FDA.

Novartis claimed, Courtney said, that Olagunju was fired for an "inability to get along with people." And of course, this may be a very plausible explanation.

I mean, hypothetically, if you have a bunch of crooks, and you tell the crooks you don't want to do the crooked stuff, then the crooks are going to say that you "don't get along with them." Which is, of course, entirely true. Not that we know if anyone at Novartis is a crook. That's up to the courts, and the FDA, to decide.

Courtney thought it was "very likely that the delay of FDA approval of Novartis' cancer drug Tasigna was due to the meeting Olagunju had with three FDA official on June 28."

Courtney also stated that Novartis had tried to silence Olagunju with a separation package when they terminated his employment. Of course, to get that package, Olagunju would have to sign a legal release that he wouldn't sue them, would never speak badly about Novartis, and so on.

Olagunju was not willing to sign the release, unless the company agreed to undertake an audit of the questionable data submitted to the FDA. Novartis refused to do so and Novartis also rebuffed Olaganju's efforts to work with them after his termination, to review the data.

It is interesting to observe this case. Irrespective of whom is proven right, Novartis now has a mess on their hands, with a delayed drug approval which could cost the company tens of millions of dollars.

Courtney summed it up, saying, "it seems like all these companies have read the same book about how to fire someone, what things to do to protect themselves, but in the end it doesn't really help them."


Anonymous said...

I can testify that this is exactly right how this company handles whistleblowers. They encourage you to come forward ( Letter by Dr. Vasella and general councel March 2003) do the right thing in the interest of the company. They guarantee you protection from retaliation or punishment of any kind. Once you are out you get the same treatment as Mr.O here and end up out. Those that you exposed are protected, one or two fired but others promoted and rewarded. The case is covered up internally, new methods of misconduct are developed and the life goes on in Novatilot.
At least in USA you have srong laws to fight this menace and chances to succeed are fair to good. In most other westen countries this is not the case and these "people" simply getaway with .
Will be watching this.

Anonymous said...

It seems number of victimized Novartis employees have tried many different ways to get back to this mega-bully and nothing seems to do it. Are they the teflon company? According to some true comments on cafepharma this co thinks they are God given entity to us mortals and can do whatever they want or need to get that bottom line nice and fat. Strangly enough, the Swiss people are not like that. They are nice gentle people who don't want or need to step on another human being. That is why they are what they are and they want to keep it that way. In comes Novartis and everyone can not believe their eyes and ears what is going on. Is it posible that this co has completely lost their Swiss roots and bacame completely Novarinized ( Novartia is a nasty planet far far away where where no one has ever gone before, except few top dogs from their HQ just before the big merger) and we are seeing the results nowdays.
Back to the victims. We know of one that is now in his final stage, after trying several ways to get justice. With is extensive evidence he/she is waliking into the local country's federal authorities and show and surender it all. Two things will happen: The authorities will tell 1. "This is nothing, they can do what ever they want in this country" or 2. "This is what we have been waiting for a log time. It is time to cut this and all other big pharma that is taking advantage of our public health care system. With this evidence we can do it".
You get the picture. It is not going to happen on this Tuesday but we are working on it. This year for sure.

Anonymous said...

If you got what you say you got. Go get them.