David Prosser: Pushing the pills may be the world's most risky business


Outlook Just who would be chief executive of a major pharmaceuticals business? Andrew Witty, the man in the hot seat at GlaxoSmithKline, may cut a confident public figure, co-opted by the Prime Minister on to an advisory panel of business's great and good, but he also has to spend a disproportionate amount of time looking over his shoulder. For Mr Witty runs a leading company in an industry that is right in the sights of regulators worldwide.

So, while GSK made a profit of £3.2bn last year, the total was 60 per cent down on 2009 – largely because it plunged to a £476m loss in the final quarter after putting aside £2.2bn to settle litigation over its Avandia diabetes drug (the total bill for this and other disputes could be as high as £4bn).

The Avandia reckoning will have left Mr Witty with a familiar sinking feeling. Data published last week by the watchdog Public Citizen revealed that no company has been more heavily penalised in the US than GSK. Not including Avandia, it paid $4.5bn in penalties between 1991 and 2010.

It is far from alone. Total penalties for pharmaceutical companies in the US over that period came to a little over $20bn, more than any other industry was fined by regulators. And you can add on tens of billions more to cover the cost of litigation from victims of drugs scandals – Merck has put aside $5bn for law suits related to its painkiller Vioxx, for example.

Nor do the pharmaceuticals companies face trouble in the US only. Europe too has begun to zero in on the industry in recent years, though financial penalties here have so far been smaller.

Regulatory actions have spanned a multitude of sins, most of which Mr Witty and his fellow chief executives would argue have now been consigned to history. But with governments around the world spending more than ever on healthcare – and thus drugs – the pressure on regulators not to give the industry an inch gets greater by the day. There are bound to be further scalps.

Inevitably, this trend will have consequences. Many of the world's biggest pharmaceutical companies are now cutting back on R&D – see Pfizer's decision this week to close its Sandwich plant in the UK – often because they prefer to diversify into safer product areas. In some parts of the world, GSK is now more of a consumer goods business than a pharmaceuticals company. After all, no one sues you because they've drunk too much Ribena.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
i100
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown, daughter of the late singer Whitney Houston, poses at the premiere of
people
News
people
News
The frequency with which we lie and our ability to get away with it both increase to young adulthood then decline with age, possibly because of changes that occur in the brain
scienceRoger Dobson knows the true story, from Pinocchio to Pollard
Voices
The male menopause: those affected can suffer hot flushes, night sweats, joint pain, low libido, depression and an increase in body fat, among other symptoms
voicesSo the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Life and Style
health
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Administrator

£13000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about custom...

Recruitment Genius: Dialler Administrator

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Main purpose: Under the directi...

Ashdown Group: Contracts Manager - City of London

£35000 - £37000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Contracts Manager - City...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen