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Ex-Novartis employee found not guilty of deceitful drug advertising

Published on 17/03/17 at 09:43am

A Tokyo court has ruled finding ex-Novartis employee Nobuo Shirahashi and the company’s Tokyo-based sales arm Novartis Pharma KK not guilty of violating a pharmaceutical affairs law against deceitful drug advertising, in this case for blood pressure drug Diovan.

On behalf of his former employer, Shirahashi wrote articles based on findings published in an academic journal in 2011. The court found that these findings were based on manipulated data from clinical trials at the Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine, with Shirahashi responsible for supplying the researchers with the distorted data, claiming Diovan reduced the rate of suffered strokes.

However, despite this, it stated it could not equate the actions with extravagant or exaggerated advertising under the law.

“Posting the articles on the journal represented the announcement of research results, so it’s difficult to say that this was a measure to stimulate consumers’ desire to purchase the drug,” Judge Yasuo Tsujikawa said, with the court stating that publication of such papers in medical journals “cannot be regarded as a means to motivate clients to buy”.

Shirahashi himself was originally indicted alongside the company in 2014 when the Health Ministry filed the case, demanding a 30-month prison sentence and a ¥4 million fine.

“While we are dissatisfied with the facts acknowledged by the court, its conclusion was a level-headed one,” Shirahashi’s defense lawyer remarked.

The prosecution now plans to appeal against the ruling.

Matt Fellows

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