Chinese authorities question AstraZeneca employee as industry probe widens

Chinese police have visited AstraZeneca's office in Shanghai and taken away one employee for questioning as authorities in the country look to widen their probe following allegations against GlaxoSmithKline over bribery. AstraZeneca said Monday the sales representative is the focus of a "local police matter," adding it has "no reason to believe" the visit on July 19 is "related to any other investigations."

"AstraZeneca adheres to high ethical standards in the pharmaceutical industry, and does not tolerate any illegal or unethical conduct in our business activities," the company said. "All AstraZeneca China employees and third parties on AstraZeneca’s behalf are required to strictly comply with these guidelines in the conduct of business," the drugmaker noted.

Also on Monday, GlaxoSmithKline revealed that some senior executives may have violated Chinese law. Authorities in the country claim that the drugmaker transferred as much as 3 billion yuan ($489 million) to around 700 travel agencies and consultancies to facilitate bribes aimed at boosting sales and increasing drug prices.

Gao Feng, head of the economic crimes investigation unit at China's Ministry of Public Security, previously indicated that it had uncovered information that pointed to similar money transfers made by other multinational pharmaceutical companies. Last week, UCB confirmed that its operations in China had been visited by officials from the State Administration for Industry and Commerce who were seeking information on compliance. The company suggested at the time that authorities had launched inspections of several drugmakers.

For related analysis, see Spotlight On: China's hospital bidding process – where pharma's challenge in China begins and ends?

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