Prosecutors in Tokyo raided offices of Swiss drugmaker Novartis Pharma KK over allegations it manipulated data to promote its best-selling blood pressure drug Diovan.
The investigation follows a criminal complaint filed by the Health Ministry against Novartis’ local unit in January, claiming that the ads for Diovan cited clinical studies that concluded the blood pressure-lowering drug was more effective than others.
Doubts about the reports began to surface in 2012, when a Kyoto University doctor questioned the studies by the Jikei University School of Medicine in Tokyo and Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine.
In a post on the website of British medical journal The Lancet, the doctor said that it was odd for different groups of patients to have almost the same average blood pressure.
Investigators at the Jikei University found that the data on blood pressure had been manipulated.
Novartis said at the time it had overhauled its management in Japan and set up a compliance advisory panel to prevent future problems.
The two universities had since retracted papers printed in foreign medical journals on the drug’s effectiveness in reducing the risk of cerebral stroke and angina.
Novartis Pharma’s use of the falsified reports for promotion could amount to exaggerated advertising, the Ministry’s investigation panel said in a report last September.
Under Japanese law, exaggerated advertising of drugs is punishable by up to two years in prison or a fine of as high as two million yen ($19,100), or both.
The Japanese market accounted for around a quarter of Diovan’s global sales before the scandal. Annual sales of Diovan in Japan have topped 100 billion yen ($954 million) since 2005, according to Novartis Pharma.
Novartis pharmaceuticals head David Epstein said the company would work hard to rebuild the trust of Japanese customers.
By Maesie Bertumen
Image: Auntie P/Flickr