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The former GSK employee who went to the FDA about quality control problems in their manufacturing has been awarded $96 million dollars for her work (it's calculated as a share of the fine against the company). This breaks all previous records - and you know, I think that's a good thing.

I've written about this sort of thing before, and I continue to think that this is a good law. It takes a tremendous amount of nerve to put your own livelihood at stake to report something that's going wrong (and isn't being fixed). The incentives need to be there. If we were a perfectly altruistic species, none of us would have any problem sacrificing ourselves immediately for the good of the whole. But the very fact that there's such bad conduct to take the risk of reporting on tells you that we're not that sort of species at all.

The case centered on a factory in Cidra, Puerto Rico, where GSK made a range of products including an antibiotic ointment for babies, and drugs to treat nausea, depression and diabetes. In August 2002, Eckard, a global quality assurance manager, led a team sent to the plant to investigate manufacturing violations that had been identified by the US Federal Drugs Administration (FDA). Eckard lost her job nine months later after warning that the problems ran deeper than the FDA realized.

Eckard's lawyers, Getnick & Getnick, said she was made redundant against her will in May 2003 after repeatedly complaining to GSK's management that some drugs made at Cidra were being produced in a non-sterile environment, that the factory's water system was contaminated with micro-organisms, and that other medicines were being made in the wrong doses. . .

. . .Eckard tried to alert GSK's management to the situation in Cidra even after she left the company. According to the lawsuit brought by Eckard, she tried to call GSK's chief executive JP Garnier in July 2003, but he declined to speak to her. She took her concerns to the FDA in August 2003 after concluding that GSK's compliance department lacked the authority to address her concerns.

I'm not enough of a libertarian to think that the market will take care of all such behavior without an extra possibility of punishment backing it up. I think that we really do need regulatory authorities (although we can argue the details after that statement!), in the same way that we really do need police forces. Both of those groups can (and do) abuse their authority at times, but both of them also provide a much-needed function, human nature being what it is.

And the nature of big organizations being what it is, too. "Never explain by malice what can be explained by stupidity" is a pretty good rule, and in a large company, you can add inertia, backside-covering, careerism, and deciding that a given mess is someone else's problem. The bigger a company, the more chances there are for these things to happen. Perhaps the possibility of a $750 million dollar fine will help to concentrate attention in such cases - and if not, well, how about a billion? Try for two?

Source: GSK's Whistle-Blowing Record Is a Good Thing