Whistleblower sues GlaxoSmithKline over nicotine product

A former researcher for GlaxoSmithKline claims his job was snuffed out by the pharmaceuticals giant because he repeatedly raised warnings about alleged mistakes in studies that were used to help sell the company's smoking-reduction products.

A GlaxoSmithKline logo sits on a sign outside the company's headquarters in London.
Simon Dawson | Bloomberg | Getty Images
A GlaxoSmithKline logo sits on a sign outside the company's headquarters in London.

Those statistical mistakes allegedly included ones related to the company's Nicoderm line of products, and which "had the capacity to cause negative consequences and potential health and safety issues for the general public," according to a lawsuit filed late last month by ousted GSK scientist Alexandre Selmani.

A GSK spokeswoman told CNBC that the company had not been served with a summons as of Friday, but said, "We stand fully behind Nicoderm as a safe and effective form of smoking cessation which continues to help people to quit."

"GSK also goes to great lengths to promote ethics and compliance in the workplace and has mandatory training to ensure all of our employees adhere to the highest standards of integrity," spokeswoman Pamela McKinlay said. "We also continually educate our employees about how they can report complaints so they can be appropriately investigated."

Selmani also claims that GSK "engaged in an illegal, deceptive [marketing] program worldwide to promote the use of" its NiQuitin oral strips by "asserting, without justification, that NiQuitin was superior to existing nicotine treatment."

Selmani's suit, filed in Morris County Superior Court in New Jersey, claims he received "stellar reviews" and handsome bonuses from the time he was hired in 2006 as a manager of biostatistics, until December 2012, when he first began raising red flags about problems with the statistical methodology in research done on smoking reduction and cessation.

The suit further claims that in 2013, he discovered there were "numerous mistakes" made in a Smokers' Health Project being conducted by his manager, which rendered unreliable the results of studies into a nicotine patch and film.

Selmani claims he brought his concerns about those studies and other statistical problems to the attention of his manager, as well as via emails to top brass at GSK, up to and including CEO Sir Andrew Witty.

Instead of remedying the purported errors Selmani flagged, the suit says, company bosses criticized Selmani for the way he voiced his claims, retaliated against him by giving him poor employment performance reviews and reduced his annual bonuses considerably.

The suit claims that Selmani's manager allegedly told him at one point, "I am free to decide, say or write whatever I want. I'm not going to listen to you."

Ultimately, Selmani was fired last October from his $134,600-per-year job because of his whistleblowing, according to the suit, which claims GSK violated New Jersey's Conscientious Employee Protection Act.

"Rather than fix the mistakes in the studies so as not to mislead the public about the effectiveness of their product, they fired the person who discovered it," said Selmani's lawyer, Rosemarie Arnold.

"I believe they did that because they wanted him to shut his mouth, and they didn't want the mistakes in the study to become known," Arnold said. "It would have undercut the value of the product in the consumer's mind."