Report: Lilly paid kickbacks to Chinese doctors

Drug company says an ‘exhaustive investigation’ has not verified allegations

By Tom Murphy
AP Business Writer

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Eli Lilly and Co. has spent millions of dollars on kickbacks to doctors in China for new patients who started using the drugmaker’s insulin products, according to a report from a Chinese newspaper.

The 21st Century Business Herald reported that the Indianapolis company spent at least 30 million yuan, or about $4.9 million, in direct kickbacks to doctors. The paper cites a former Lilly executive it identified using the pseudonym Wang Wei.

A Lilly spokeswoman said in an email the company is “deeply concerned” about the allegations, and it is still investigating very similar accusations from a former sales manager that it learned about last year.

The company said it interviewed employees, audited expense reports and checked emails as part of an “exhaustive investigation” for any sign of kickbacks. Lilly said it has not been able to verify the allegations.

The newspaper reported that doctors received payments from Lilly representatives as high as $130 in some cases for each new patient. The doctors were asked to fill out cards on each patient after they prescribed the medication. Lilly representatives then collected the cards and paid the doctors, the paper said.

The paper also reported that Lilly representatives were evaluated on the number of returned cards. Those with the highest totals received rewards. Reps who failed to meet set totals were eliminated from the team.

The paper said documents it obtained provided by the source showed that Lilly made the payments in 2011 and planned to do so last year as well.

Insulin is used treat diabetes, a chronic condition in which the body either does not make enough insulin to break down the sugar in foods or uses insulin inefficiently. Over time, diabetics are at higher risk for heart attacks, kidney problems, blindness and other serious complications.

Lilly has made a big push to expand its presence in China, in part to provide treatments for diabetes, a disease that has grown rapidly in recent years. In late 2010, it announced that it would open a diabetes research center in China to develop treatments.

Chinese authorities have been cracking down on pharmaceutical misconduct.