Ex-Glaxo Official Sues Over Firing Tied to Study Mistakes

  • Scientist says he caught flaws in study of Nicoderm products
  • Alexandre Selmani said he was fired after alerting CEO

A former GlaxoSmithKline Plc executive says he was fired for pointing out flaws in studies used to tout the benefits of the drugmaker’s Nicoderm line of smoking-cessation products.

Alexandre Selmani, hired in 2006 to oversee study designs, claims in a lawsuit that his bosses at a Glaxo unit based in New Jersey ignored his warnings about statistical mistakes in studies of Nicoderm patches and oral inserts. He says he was fired in retaliation for blowing the whistle on the errors.

The London-based drugmaker’s refusal to acknowledge statistical flaws in the Nicoderm studies allowed Glaxo to illegally market the quit-smoking aides as more effective than rival products, Selmani said in his complaint, filed Jan. 6 in state court in New Jersey.

While Glaxo hasn’t yet been served with the complaint, Pamela McKinlay, a spokeswoman for the company, said it “goes to great lengths to promote ethics and compliance in the workplace.”

“We stand fully behind Nicoderm as a safe and effective form of smoking cessation which continues to help people to quit,” McKinlay said an e-mailed statement Friday. “We also continually educate our employees about how they can report complaints so they can be appropriately investigated.”

The U.K.’s biggest drugmaker sold $339 million worth of Nicoderm nicotine patches, gums, and lozenges in 2009, the last time the company broke out sales of those anti-smoking products, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Glaxo won approval to sell its popular nicotine lozenges in the U.S. in 2002.

Selmani, who served as a manager of biostatistics, said he discovered data problems in Nicoderm studies in 2012. When his immediate supervisors refused to acknowledge the errors, the biostatistician sent an e-mail warning to Andrew Witty, Glaxo’s chief executive officer, about the potential consequences. Witty is a defendant in the case.

The study design miscues have the “capacity to cause negative consequences and potential health and safety issues for the general public,” Selmani wrote in the e-mail, according to court filings.

After pointing out the flaws, Selmani says, his managers cut his pay and bonus and ultimately fired him from his $134,000-per-year job last year in violation of New Jersey laws protecting whistle-blowers.

The case is Selmani v. GlaxoSmithKline, MRS L-2995-15, Superior Court for Morris County, New Jersey.

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