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Unsend! The 10 Worst Emails Ever Sent in the Pharma Business

We all know the feeling: Once you've hit "send," an email can't be taken back. That's why lawyers love them, and that's why so many disastrous internal emails end up being turned into lawsuits that cost drug companies millions. From faking safety data to covering up crimes to discriminating against pregnant women, drug company executives have done it all. Here's a look at 10 emails that the senders wish had never been written. You can click to enlarge any image.

"I'm not going to jail for J&J"»


10. "I'm not going to jail for J&J"
In the late 1990s, Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) allegedly started paying kickbacks to Omnicare (OCR), a pharmacy provider for nursing homes, to increase sales of its antipsychotic drug Risperdal. The payments increased Omnicare's annual purchases of J&J drugs from approximately $100 million to more than $280 million, according to the feds. The lawsuit is ongoing. On Sept. 13, 1999, J&J business group account director Bruce Cummins wrote a long email to his colleagues describing a tense series of negotiations with Omnicare in which he expressed his fear that the payments were illegal and might end up with someone going to jail:


"[T]he snake oil of the 20th century"»


9. Neurontin: "the snake oil of the twentieth century"
Plenty of people have sued Pfizer (PFE) for allegedly promoting Neurontin, its anti-seizure medication, for a variety of unapproved uses. In 1999, Pfizer executive medical director/global medical team leader Christopher Wohlberg, described Neurontin as "snake oil":


"These data should not see the light of day"»


8. GlaxoSmithKline: "These data should not see the light of day"

GSK has put aside billions of dollars to settle claims it hid data showing that its diabetes treatment Avandia had higher risks for heart attacks than competing medicines. In 2001, one GSK exec told another to sit on negative data:


"Obviously looking to fire this person. She is 6 months pregnant, too."»


7. Novartis: "Obviously looking to fire this person. She is 6 months pregnant, too."
Novartis (NVS) lost a $250 million gender discrimination verdict in 2010 after emails surfaced in court showing a manager trying to get rid of pregnant employees. Here is the text of two of them:


"The data don't look good."»


6. AstraZeneca: "The data don't look good."
AstraZeneca (AZN) spent years promoting Seroquel as if it was more effective that Haldol, a rival antipsychotic. The problem was that in 2000, AstraZeneca's U.S. publications manager for Seroquel, John Tumas, sent this email admitting it wasn't:


"Is this not connected to the cardiovascular deaths?"»


5. GSK's CEO: "Is this not connected to the cardiovascular deaths?"
When former CEO Jean-Pierre Garnier was merely the COO of the company in 1999, he asked one of his underlings why so many people taking Avandia seemed to be dropping dead. Apparently Garnier did not follow through on his concerns because the drug stayed on the market, according to this deposition transcript of the email:


"A great smoke and mirrors job."»


4. AstraZeneca: "A great smoke and mirrors job."
Tumas wasn't the only employee at AZ who had concerns about the robustness of the data behind Seroquel. In 1997, this memo was sent describing how the company spins data to make bad results look more appealing:

J&J buys a "black hole" that doesn't pass the "smell test"»

3. J&J buys a "black hole" that doesn't pass the "smell test"
J&J paid $70 million to settle charges it bribed Greek doctors to use its medical devices. J&J tried to cover that up by buying the company through which it was passing payments, but an audit discovered that the deal stank. J&J bought the company anyway:


Pfizer's illegal painkiller sales team: "The Highlanders."»


2. Pfizer's illegal painkiller sales team christen themselves "The Highlanders."
A Pfizer sales team leader convicted of deleting computer documents in a federal investigation of off-label Bextra sales called his staff "The Highlanders." The nickname is a reference to a movie and TV show about an immortal Scottish swordsman from the 1500s who must kill or be killed by other immortals living secretly among us. The exec's email signature was "There Can Be Only One," a reference to the motto of the movie:


"We have little or clinical safety and efficacy data."»


1. HealthPoint: "We have little or clinical safety and efficacy data."
Prosecutors allege that Health Point has an unusual business model for its skin ointment Xenaderm: It marketed the drug knowing that it didn't work. HealthPoint R&D vp Christopher Hensby admitted the drug had no data supporting it in this 2004 memo:


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Image by Flickr user the young thousands, CC.