Effect Measure

Quackery at GSK?

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is said to be the second largest pharmaceutical and food company in the world. They make and market an influenza antiviral (Relenza) and an H5N1 vaccine. We trust that they represent their products to the public and to public officials correctly. Maybe we shouldn’t. At least not on the basis evidence adduced by two 14 year old New Zealand school girls:

Jenny and Anna decided to look at vitamin C content in juice for the Manukau Institute of Technology science fair because “we were both going through a juice phase”.

Jenny said the Ribena ready-to-drink product was one of the first of the juice products they checked the results for.

“We just couldn’t believe it. We thought we must have done it wrong,” she said.

“We tested it another 10 times, and tested the syrup as well. The other products all came up with more vitamin C than they said, but not Ribena.”

They took their results to Ribena, but had little feedback.

They were not too impressed by an invitation from GlaxoSmithKline to visit once the commission case began “to say thank you for bringing it to their attention”, and even less impressed by the company’s efforts to have the fine set at $60,000. (Stuff [NZ])

Understand what was involved here. It’s not that the juices didn’t have as much vitamin C as claimed. They didn’t have any. Despite claims there was 7 mg/100 ml in one ready to drink product and none in a syrup it claimed had four times the vitamin C of oranges. None. Nada. Claims they’d made in advertising from 2002 to 2006. GSK has admitted to the fraud.

GSK sells Relenza, an inhalable influenza antiviral. How do we know there’s any active ingredient in it? Because they tell us there is? Once on the market how will be know there is any viral antigen in their vaccine or any adjuvant to give it a boost? Because they tell us?

Maybe there’s a difference between making a health claim for a product with no active ngredient and quackery. Tell me what it is.


  1. #1 cpg
    March 29, 2007

    While we are on the subject about dodgy GSK. Look at this news just out today. Follow the link.

    Bigger claim likely in flu case

    ”Mr Cook said Roche had the capacity to produce 400 million courses of Tamiflu, while GSK only had the capacity to supply 15 million courses of Relenza.”

    “I have sitting on my desk a letter from the UK Department of Health – which has exclusively stockpiled Tamiflu – that says the key reason they haven’t stockpiled Relenza is the manufacturing capacity and availability is currently insufficient for pandemic needs.

    “That’s their comment about Relenza – that there’s no point in ordering it because the company has not installed sufficient manufacturing capacity.”

    The trial has been set for April 1, 2008.


  2. #2 revere
    March 29, 2007

    cpg: I saw this after I wrote the post and clipped it for possible posting tomorrow or the weekend. I thought it was also pretty bad behavior, too.

  3. #3 rickr
    March 29, 2007

    I hope Mr. Bush doesn’t get wind of this and begin to think of cost cutting measures at the FDA. Otherwise, we might have school kids out testing products.

    Hmm, come to think of it maybe it’s not such a bad idea. After getting an up close view of what goes into our food, the next generation may make wiser choices than us.

  4. #4 mara
    March 30, 2007

    I live in NZ so am close to this Ribena deception.How many people over the years of child-raising have been conned into buying this product in the belief that it was healthy for their children?Millions probably.I had a premmie and took every care to nourish her properly.I fed her Ribena in good faith.GSK has not been sufficiently punished.I read labels more now than ever before,but can I trust them?

  5. #5 anon
    March 30, 2007

    maybe it is homeopathically present???

  6. #6 revere
    March 30, 2007

    anon: Maybe, because it doesn’t seem to be analytically present.

  7. #7 traumatized
    March 30, 2007

    The Guardian article on this suggested that it is a problem only in the NZ market and they’ve tested this product in all other markets.

    So this isn’t fraud, it seems to be a manufacturing error/quality assurance problem….which is MORE frightening, considering the nature of their industry.

  8. #8 revere
    March 30, 2007

    traumatized: I didn’t read it that way. If it was just a problem of less vitamin C in it than they said, you would have a case. But apparently there was no vitamin C in it. How could they not know it wasn’t added? But you are also right, that a quality control error of that magnitude is hardly reassuring.

  9. #9 Miso
    March 31, 2007

    I look forward to an article on GSK and Relenza. For an informative insight into GSK thinking check out the internal memos (p149+)that prove that GSK torpedoed Relenza simply to get out of the antiviral business.

  10. #10 admin
    March 31, 2007

    I write Seroxat Secrets – perhaps there’s a clue in the name? The Ribena debacle is symtomatic of the entire way Glaxo does business.

    I’m also concerned about Glaxo’s other drugs, Gerpirone ER being the newest they’re trying get approval for.

    Drug regulation in the UK and USA stinks – perhaps you might find some interesting information and links at Seroxat Secrets.

    Part of what I want to do is to use the internet to make connections that would have been impossible only a few years ago. I think ultimately this is what will make the difference – we can share information in a new way and we all know information is power!

  11. #11 cpg
    March 31, 2007


    That link is very damning to say this least. Look at this quote from an internal GSK email from 2002.

    This document is an internal GWA email
    dated 12 September 2002. It states relevantly as follows

    ”Also as the partnership with Biota has been very public any decisions like discontinuing Relenza will have significant adverse effects on Biota’s
    share price.
    I really don’t think we want to have been seen to have
    caused that especially since we are in breach of the agreement with Biota in that we are not putting any promotional resource behind Relenza in Australia.”

    Big business at its best.

    And thats not even scratching the surface from that link.

  12. #12 truthman
    May 10, 2007

    Quackery at GSK?…

    you bet your feathers …!

    Check out their dubious claims about their anti-depressant suicide drug – Seroxat


    And as for Ribena…


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