Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Lilly, Sweden, Bribes and Conspiracy Theories

Several weeks ago I received an email from John Virapen who had this to say:
My name is John Virapen. I am now retired, after working more than 30 years in the pharma industry internationally. I have worked at executive level for some major companies such as Eli Lilly, and Novo Nordisk.

My career started in Sweden where I was Managing Director for Eli Lilly Sweden AB. I now live in Germany. Last year I published a fictional novel ("Side Effects: Death"; written in German) about corruption in the pharma industry, which created some debate.

I was then urged by the public to tell the true story. I have now written this book
as my memoirs primarily outlining the criminal activities I was involved in during my active years.

The Big Fish here is Eli Lilly.

A few months ago I was invited by Andy Vickery, a prominent US attorney, as a fact witness in an ongoing case regarding Prozac. I happen to have "damning evidence" exposing Eli Lilly bribing the regulatory board in Sweden to attain marketing approval for Prozac.
I thought: whistleblower, Sweden -- Peter Rost! No, John Virapen, who wrote his book under the pseudonym of John Rengen, is NOT Peter Rost. But I figured Peter would know who this guy was, but when I asked Peter, he had no clue.

Recently, I have done some searching on the Internet about Virapen and Andy Vickery and have come up with a few more pieces of the puzzle. First, here's Virapen's video on YouTube:



I learned that Virapen tried to sue Eli Lilly for wrongful dismissal based on his race:
September 22, 1995 UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS No. 95-1407 JOHN VIRAPEN, ET AL. v ELI LILLY, S.A., ETC., ET AL.

This appeal stems from a suit alleging Per Curiam employment discrimination in violation of federal statutes and local law. The principal plaintiff, John Virapen, who was born in British Guyana and is of Indian descent, alleges that his employer, Eli Lilly S.A., a pharmaceutical firm, discharged him from an executive position because of his skin color, race, and national origin. The district court conducted a four-day bench trial concerning Virapen's allegations. The court thereafter wrote a meticulously reasoned opinion in which it concluded that Virapen had failed to prove his case.
Recall that dozens of current and former workers at Eli Lilly and Co. are stepping forward to accuse the Indianapolis drug maker of racial discrimination, adding heft to an ongoing lawsuit that paints the company as hostile to black employees (see "Lily-White Lilly. Homophobic and Sexist Too?").

Virapen may also have something in common with Tom Cruise: a connection with Scientology's Commission for violations of human rights against psychiatry (see this entry in Wikipedia). I can't say that Virapen is a shill for Scientology, but he definitely thinks the side effects of Prozac are deadly.

Trial lawyer Andy Vickery, for whom Virapen may be employed as an expert witness, has been described as "Eli Lilly and Co.'s legal nightmare: an outspoken, Yale-educated Texas trial lawyer . . . who has brought new focus and heightened publicity to Prozac litigation." (Jeff Swiatek, Indianapolis Star; 4/24/2000).

Recently, Virapen called to tell me that the story about his "damning evidence" against Lilly and the bribery of Swedish regulators "broke" in the Swedish press on page one of a major newspaper there.

With all this litigation involving Lilly and Prozac, I was amused to find out that Lilly is sponsoring a program to help physicians deal with their own litigation problems (see this post to The Carlat Psyhiatry Blog).

There's also a connection here with the American Psychological Association (APA), which received "at least $1.3 million in 2007 (so far) for industry-supported symposia and fellowships" (see "From Embarrassment to Scandal: Lilly + APA + The Psychiatrist's Program + Lots and Lots of Money"). Funny that the APA recently published a report that recommended that its 148,000 members "turn their nose up at pharma funds; limit the role industry plays at professional conferences, meetings and CME sessions; and adopt strict guidelines on conflict-of-interest disclosure" (see "APA Report Rips Pharma a New One!").


I wasn't sure what to do about John Virapen, who I thought was a bit outside the box with the claims he was making. But after several follow-up phone calls from him plus all of the above smoke that may reveal some fire in this story, I decided to invite him as a guest on my Pharma Marketing Talk podcast show on 20 December 2007:

Side Effects: Death
A Former Lilly Insider Blows the Whistle on Criminal Activity in Sweden

A conversation with John Virapen, an ex-Eli-Lilly-executive and author of the book "Side Effect: Death" (published in Sweden and Germany)...More info here...

Airs live, Thursday, 20 December 2007, 10 AM Eastern US time



Personal communication from John Virapen:

Dear John,

I cant seem to get my comments posted the normal way on your blog, but here they are, perhaps you can post them for me.

1. Anonymous says he worked for lilly 5 years but I wonder if its Eli Lilly he means. Bad judgement calls seem to be routine with several major pharma companies. Before making assumptions why dont you contact the Swedish Daily news ( Dagens Nyheter) who can verify my story. I can assure I am not a disgruntled employee. I am just publishing my memoirs of 35 years working in the international pharma industry. By the way the book is a fact book. I am not hiding behind fiction.

2. I was not employed by Att. Vickery to testify, I offered freely at no charge what so ever.

3. I am in no way connected to scientology or any other organisation for that matter.

4. Finally to those of you who suggest that I am pursuing financial gain please tell me how to do it. You might be aware that it does cost to write and publish a book. However, if this is a concern then I suggest, someone sponser the book and then donate the proceeds to victims who suffered at the hands of the pharma industry.

You can contact me at virapen@gmail .com

see you thursday.

14 comments:

  1. Anonymous11:55 AM

    John:

    As you are a aware I worked for Lilly for over 5 years and find it hard to believe that they would "bribe" anyone. They may have made some mistakes that were made by people using bad judgement but I believe this is nothing more than a disgruntled employee trying to get revenge on the company that fired him.

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  2. That could be.

    However, the same could be said of Peter Rost who was fired by Pfizer and definitely wanted revenge (and qui tam money). Nevertheless, he did have knowledge of illegal activity that many other employees would have found hard to believe.

    John Virapen doesn't seem to have any possibility of collecting qui tam revenue, so his incentive is even less, I guess.

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  3. One error in the otherwise quite fascinating post. You mentioned that the American Psychological Association is connected to the story, which is incorrect. It is the American Psychiatric Association that was referenced in Carlat's post.

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  4. My bad!

    BTW, Can psychologists prescribe Rx medications? if not, why is pharma interested?

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  5. Rich worldofdtcmarketing.com1:57 PM

    Then shame on Peter Rost ! Where was he when he was making money, why didn't he speak up then? If we are to change this industry then we have to speak up and yes, risk losing our jobs. If we stay quiet then we are part of the problem and should not point fingers when we leave.

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  6. Rich,

    In a perfect world I would agree with you. But if you read Rost's first book, you'll see how scary it can be to reveal wrong-doing. I dare say that most people would not want to risk their jobs and family wellbeing to go against their colleagues.

    I've even lost a job because I opposed my boss's boss's decision to layoff a critical person required for completion of a project for a client (I was the project manager). Not only would have the project suffered, but the guy's wife just had a new baby. After the project was completed, I was let go. The guy whose job I saved stayed on and he never once thanked me! That's corporate America for you!

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  7. Last year I was head editor of the Swedish edition of Peter Rosts book The Whistlerblower (Sjuka pengar in Swedish). Since about one year I have been in contact with mr Virapen. We are about to translate his coming book in Germany to our Swedish readers. I wrote about Virapen in my blogg almost one year ago. And was the first Swedish editor who published the speech mr Rost gave to a bunch of scientific journalists in US 2004 in a Swedish medical magazine called Tidskriften Medikament.
    According to my opinion both theese gentlemen are revealing things that are good for the general public to know.
    My blogg is called "Toxiska epistlar" and is about the enemies and friends of health.
    I am quite convinced that mr Virapens story will have great impact on the Swedish general public.

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  8. Two Johns are out to revolutionize Pharma industry. God Bless. 2007 Christmas is truly memorable thanks to the Two Mighty Johns now on the internet. Please be careful.

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  9. Anonymous11:52 AM

    How come we're not hearing anything about this in the States - except in this blog? Lilly, though being a global player, is based in the US, after all?

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  10. Anonymous7:19 PM

    Anonymus, I also wonder the same thing. Maybe the bloggers are scared to handle the truth and facts. this story is not a conspiracy theory it is real with solid evidence.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Anonymous10:02 AM

    Crime and Punishment: Enough for Corporate Wrongdoing?

    Corporate crime should not be a new concept to most people- especially with scandals revealed with large corporations at the beginning of this decade. However, it may have evolved into more troubling ways- not only in regards to its severity, but the methods of deterrence now being implemented against corporations- involved in the health care industry in particular. So it may be becoming progressively worse for U.S. citizens as a result.
    Rather than speak of all corporations, what will be discussed is government health care fraud. Fraud basically is deception with the potential to harm others. In the case of pharma companies, this may include improper promotion and marketing, meaning that such tactics are or may be deceptive misconduct that may be illegal. In addition, there are the crimes of kickbacks and lesser crimes of misbranding products. Probably more methods of wrongdoing as well do in fact exist and happen. Yet the point is that drug companies should not engage in such wrongdoing to enrich their faceless existence with profiting off those who are ill in illegal ways.
    Biggest fines so far of all time was for these companies- all involved in the health care system:
    Hospitals were NME in 1994 and HCA healthcare for billing the government for work never done, among other things (This HCA hospital system is owned by Senator Bill Frist’s family, and somehow I’m not shocked in any way). HCA was fined twice in 2000 and 2003.
    Tap in 2001, Serono in 2005, Pfizer in 2004, Abbott in 2003, and GSK in 1997, Schering in 2004 and 2007, AstraZeneca in 2003, as well as Bayer this year- all for fraud against our government. There are many more settlements aside from these with other aspects of healthcare unrelated to pharmaceuticals, such as hospitals and home health care companies, but these top the list from the aspect of monetary penalty.
    Kidney dialysis clinic Fresenius paid a settlement in 2000 for faking medical claims was a big one in recent times. The irony is that dialysis never wanted a patent for the inventor, as he wanted the treatment to be utilized by all who were in need of this treatment.
    Check out: www.taf.org for more information and companies busted for this type of behavior. And check out www.corporatecrimereporter.com to find out the criminals who are essentially set free afterwards.
    Criminals assigned to restore the health of others. This is troubling to say the least.
    How is such conduct discovered? Typically by whistleblowers who worked for the described pharma or medical company, and such people are rare for a number of reasons. The whistleblower then seeks legal agents and files what is called a qui tam false claims act with a district attorney’s office (Boston or Philadelphia, if you want prosecutors to take you seriously). After the case is filed, the whistleblower verbally acknowledges the charges and evidence to the chosen prosecutors and others.
    Such cases usually take years for unclear reasons to reach closure, yet in the past two years, the settlements from such cases has approached 2 billion dollars after investigations ended that took years, which is tax dollars returned to the American public with these settlements.
    So, what has been happening once a pharma company gets busted. Criminal indictment by the government prosecutors? This is hardly the case, yet appropriate. Usually, the prosecutor’s objective is to dismiss the case, but give the impression that such activities will not be tolerated by our government. So Corporate Integrity Agreements are mandated to the pharma company, but not really taken seriously, as some have more than one of these agreements active still. It’s an invisible ankle bracelet. A pharma company can and have committed equal or worse crimes while under such an agreement. This Agreement is issued after the deferred or non prosecution agreement is sentenced to the law-breaking corporation, which basically is a pre-trial diversion. Essentially, it’s just parole, which is supported by the DOJ and the administration. The criminals admit wrongdoing, but not guilt. And they pay a settlement in the neighborhood of hundreds of millions of dollars. Not that shocking, if you consider the income of big pharma companies. These agreements are relatively new and partially a result of suggestions somehow devised by the lawmakers of our country.
    We are the top country in the world with the most prisoners behind bars, yet those that do similar if not greater harm to others get out of jail free. Double standard, I would say. Is this behavior by our legal system towards corporations an effective deterrent? Most think not. It rather seems like tacit approval of their conduct. And health care fraud may be more damaging than other types in other industries, yet lack of regulation allows such crimes to continue.
    Citizens should make the laws in our country. Justice would then finally exist.

    “Corporations cannot commit treason, nor be outlawed, nor excommunicated, for they have no souls.”
    ---- Edward Coke

    Dan Abshear

    Author’s note: What has been written above is based upon information and belief

    ReplyDelete
  12. Dr Ulf Jonasson4:12 AM

    Dear Friend and colleague,

    I hereby send you some results from our reserach in forensic science from The Department of Forensic Medicine at the University of Uppsala in Sweden. Our scientific data are the basis of the message, but we prefer to present the whole thing in a popular science form to get our message out to the public, so called common people, that maybe have lost one loved one due to poisoning to death due to (dextro) Propoxyphene.

    I send you the script to my YouTube-video http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=Jonasson+Darvon&search=Search

    and the link to Wikipedia and Dextropropoxyphene/Propoxyphene


    http://sv.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dextropropoxifen (Swedish version)

    More that 2 800 persons have watched the video,

    ***********************************

    This is a message From

    Ulf Jonasson, Doctor of Public Health on YouTube:

    “Darvon, Distalgesic, Co-Proxamol – the worst drugs ever”

    http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=Jonasson+Darvon&search=Search

    Friends,

    I would like to tell you a story, a very sad story about a painkiller that has been around in the American society since 1957 – that is exactly 50 years. The name of the drug is DARVON or DARVON-N or DARVOCET. It is basically the same drug. In Europe the drug is called DISTALGESIC or CO-PROXAMOL. The working substance in the drug is PROPOXYPHENE or DEXTROPROPOXYPHENE as we call it in Europe.

    We think drugs - containing PROPOXYPHENE - are the worst drugs ever, among prescribed drugs. No single drug in the history has caused so many fatal deaths asthese drugs have done during the last 50 years.

    How come I can sit here and say that? Are you supposed to believe me?

    We – my wife Birgitta and myself - Ulf Jonasson, we are both doctors, PhD:s – have studied the dangers with PROPOXYPHENE since 1993, that is 13-14 years.

    We have written and published 8 scientific articles about PROPOXYPHENE. We have also written and defended two doctorial dissertations about the drug and its fatal consequences. And to get our alarming data outside the academic world, we also wrote a popular science version of our research that was published both in Swedish and in English. The English name of the book is “Fatalities due to use or misuse of painkillers “

    We think we have studied the consequences of using PROPOXYPHENE in a quite proper way, and therefore we will tell this sad story about a drug that probably have killed more people than any drug in the history.

    One of the Big Pharmas in US, Eli Lilly “invented” PROPOXYPHENE in 1953 and it took some years before it came out on the market. There was a need for a painkiller without side effects in the early 50s – and Lilly found PROPOXYPHENE. Have you heard this story before - a drug without side effects???

    The drug was called DARVON – I am sure you have heard about it - and it became immediately very popular. It was not for the pain killing effects the drug became a financial success. Later on, studies showed that the pain killing effect was not better than aspirin or acetaminophen – like Tylenol. The users felt good, because DARVON is an opiate – close to methadone, morphine and heroin – and it influence your brain, you feel good. The drug influences your Central Nervous System.

    As I told you before, we have studied PROPOXYPHENE since 1993. Our main result was that during the investigated years 1992 – 1999 - 8 years - 200 persons in Sweden, were poisoned to death every year due to PROPOXYPHENE – poisoning. 200 persons died every year because they used a very popular painkiller and we thought this was very alarming. Sweden is a quite small country, we have just about 9 million inhabitants. In United States there are soon 300 million inhabitants and we knew, thanks to international statistics, that the American people used even more PROPOXYPHENE that the Swedish people did. Is it therefore possible for us to assume that there is more that 30 times as many fatal deaths in United States as in Sweden.

    Yes, we think so.

    If we look at the consumption of PROPOXYPHENE in United States compared to Sweden, we find some very interesting figures. The average consumption of PROPOXYPHENE in Sweden - during the investigated years 1992-1999 - was 2 400kg/year. In United States you consumed an average of 99 400 kg/year. It is more than 40 times as much in US than in Sweden. Is it possible that the numbers of fataldeaths in US are 40 times more??? What do you think?

    Here are some more figures. We know that consuming 2 400 kg/year in Sweden, caused 200 fatal death every year. You can say that it became "one fatal death for consuming every 12 kilograms" in Sweden. I think you understand and accept the metaphor. How many fatal death could that be if you consumed 99 400 kilogram a year in US??

    The numbers are so high, you will not even think about them. And it gets even worse if you think back 50 years, consuming 80 – 90 - 100 000 kilograms a year in 50 years!!! In 2005 the consumption was 110 040 kg.

    I will also mention some figures about the PROPOXYPHENE-situation in United Kingdom. They have also had huge problems with fatal poisonings due to PROPOXYPHENE. In the year 2004, some 1,5 million persons got 7,5 million prescriptions on their version of PROPOXYPHENE, namely CO-PROXAMOL. These 7,5 million prescriptions became more than 900 000 000 CO-PROXAMOL pills. In the same year there were around 24 million prescriptions in United States, these 24 million prescriptions became almost 3 billion pills containing PROPOXYPHENE. This is 3 followed by nine zeros…

    The medical product authorities in UK; the MHRA, decided January the 31st, 2005 that PROPOXYPHENE – products would be phased out in the country till the end of the year. They did not succeed doing that. Why, there were so many problems to stop using the drug for the users, so many side effects, so much suffering to get rid of the drug.

    MHRA then decided the drug to be out of the market in the end of the year 2006, but they did not succeed this time either. Today - the MHRA are saying that the drug definitive will be out of the market last December this year. Will they do that??? I do hope so.

    Why do not the US authorities inform the American society about these harming drugs? We can put the answer in just two worlds, THE LAW. We have different laws in Sweden and in US. In Sweden we have one federal law for all four branches of the forensic medicine, which are medicine, chemistry, psychiatric and genetics.

    In United States you have different laws in different states. In some states you have the old English system of CORONERS – and they are more investigators than medical doctors, you also have the MEDICAL EXAMINER SYSTEM, and they are medical doctors, but usually not specialists in forensic medicine.

    And most important of all, in Sweden, the medical doctors take a blood test of all dead persons that come to the forensic medicine station. And these blood tests are all screened for every legal drug there is in Sweden, and that includes PROPOXYPHENE. Thanks to that routine we find our PROPOXYPHENE-cases, and unfortunately you do not find so many PROPOXYPHENE cases.

    In Unites States, the decision to take a blood test is on the level of every one of the 3 200 counties in the country. And by many reasons the needed blood tests are mostly not taken. I think this is a big problem for your country, you loose lots of important information in many areas of medicine, missing the prevalence of PROPOXYPHE is just one.

    I would like say a few more worlds about who are responsible for these tragedies, the many fatalities due to poisoning from PROPOXYPHENE. The manufacturers are, as I said earlier - ELI LILLY. The have earned billions of dollar during the last 47 or 48 years. Why do I not say the last 50 years?

    The reason I say 47 or 48 years is that ELI LILLY sold the rights to their brands DARVON and the others - to some less known US pharmaceutical companies. And these companies were apparently not aware of our research. If they have known about this research, they would have been stupid to get into this crazy business of a drug that kills. LILLY has known about research since 1999 – at least in Sweden. We have printed proof for that.

    LILLY is afraid of the consequences when the drug will be banned. They are afraid of how many people that will sue them because they have lost some dear ones, a father, a mother, a brother, a sister, a cousin, an aunt, an uncle or just a very closefriend – that have died after that they have used a painkiller, fore example DARVON, DARVON-N or DARVOCET.

    Do you remember VIOXX?? This drug was withdrawn from the market in 2004. The manufacturer, MERCK & Co, said that there was in increasing risk to get heart problem when using VIOXX. They talked about increasing risk,we talk about fatal deaths,
    thousands of fatal deaths – just in United States. Now MERCK & CO has to pay billions of dollars in damages.

    You can say, that ELI LILLY, almost to the last minute - earned millions of dollars every year on their PROPOXYPHENE- drugs. Both in Sweden and in UK they did thesame thing. They sold DISTALGESIC to another company in Sweden and UK. Kind of a surprise for this company MEDA – they bought a drug that was banned just after a short time.

    Money are apparently more important than human lives for ELI LILLY, It is a simple as that.

    I would like to finish this message by telling you how things could develop. After restrictions were implemented twice in Sweden, 2001 and 2005, thanks to our research - we now can say that 500 – 600 lives have been saved, just in Sweden.

    During 1992-99 some 200 persons were poisoned to death every year. The Medical Product Agency in Sweden recently informed that during the year 2005, 56 persons were poisoned to death. And we feel proud of what we have done to save lifes.

    We now feel a moral obligation to inform about the dangers with PROPOXYPHENE all over the world. And we know that, when the FDA will ban DARVON and the OTHER PROPOXYPHENE-brands, lots of lives- thousands and thousands - will be saved in Unites States. If the FDA doesn´t do that, the sad story continues.

    We thank you for watching this video.

    Good bye

    Ulf Jonasson

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  13. Anonymous7:23 AM

    Read the original eBook by John Virapen

    You can download the book by John virapen also as ebook in english from that website: http://www.side-effects-death.com

    ReplyDelete
  14. Anonymous6:10 PM

    Elli Lily was also the big fish behind Darvon and Darvocet controversial issues today.

    @Dr. Ulf Jonasson: I highly agree with that. In fact i have here also a story similar to yours. Hope you will appreciate it.

    http://www.darvondarvocetlawsuit.com/updates/swedish-doctor-warned-fda-of-darvondarvocet-side-effects-in-1999/

    For those who have no idea about Elli Lily, they have been dealing with a lot of lawsuits already. So, sometimes even if they'r not doing bad, the loss of integrity prevails.

    Thanks for posting this blog John Mack.

    Best regards,
    Darvocet Lawsuit

    ReplyDelete