Page last updated at 09:20 GMT, Friday, 4 April 2008 10:20 UK

Bogus pharmacist case scrutinised

By Nicola Stanbridge
BBC News

Xenical
Xenical has helped people to lose weight

The medicines regulator is re-examining how a bogus pharmacist bought large quantities of slimming pills and got funding from a pharmaceutical giant.

Robin Huxley, a salesman from Barnsley, was jailed last month for 14 months for illegally prescribing Xenical.

Roche, which markets Xenical, believed Huxley was a pharmacist running a group of slimming clinics alongside a doctor.

The company says it was simply the victim of crime, but an ex-employee has raised concerns about its practices.

I feel strongly Roche's business practices have put people's lives at risk and they haven't been called to account
Dr Ryta Kuzel
Former Roche employee

Dr Ryta Kuzel, the former head of regulatory affairs, said: "I feel strongly Roche's business practices have put people's lives at risk and they haven't been called to account."

Roche has dismissed the claims.

In a statement, it said: "We checked the GMC number of the doctor. We had no reason to believe the pharmacist was not legitimate nor had any reasons to check his credentials.

"Companies can sell prescription-only medicines to practices as long as there's a healthcare professional who can prescribe."

Concerns

In 2005 Roche and Dr Kuzel learned the Department of Health was investigating the Huxley case.

Only a few days later Dr Kuzel was sacked - unfairly according to a later employment tribunal.

Dr Kuzel also knew that Roche had long had concerns about Robin Huxley. At one point he was the biggest buyer of the slimming drug outside the NHS, buying nearly 1m a year.

But large sales to his clinics did not seem to match patient numbers, and Roche employees had been sent to investigate.

But far from stopping sales when concerns were raised, Roche decided instead to invest and help expand Huxley's slimming business, according to a report by a Roche employee.

The report said: "I would advise against closing down the trading terms. I feel we may be sacrificing sales just because we are scared of the potential of the private sector.

"Rob does have plans to expand to other clinics and on the face of it this seems to be in the interest of Roche."

In 2004 Roche gave Robin Huxley 20,000 towards a new diet clinic and had plans to invest more.

Roche insists this funding was unrestricted and in no way linked to the prescribing of Xenical.

Had it been linked, it would be against the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) professional code.

Two investigations are underway, by the ABPI and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.

Roche says it is cooperating with both and that there has never been any suggestion of wrong-doing on Roche's part.


video and audio news
Former head of regulatory affairs gives her reaction



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