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Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

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Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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June 30, 2014

The GSK-China Situation Gets Even Weirder

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Posted by Derek

OK, the GlaxoSmithKline/China business has officially crossed over into new territory. Over the weekend, the company confirmed reports that Mark Reilly, the GSK executive in the country who's been in the middle of this affair from the beginning, was the object of a blackmail attempt by unknown parties. (The story was broken by the Sunday Times, and it's behind a paywall, but it's been picked up by every major news outlet).

Someone shot extensive footage of Reilly alone with his Chinese girlfriend, and mailed the resulting file to higher-ups at the company. The connection between all this and the corruption allegations has not been made clear, but the footage apparently accompanied some of the emails accusing the company of bribery. We may never know quite what's going on here, but I'll bet it's very interesting indeed. More on surveillance in China here.

Update: an excellent overview from the BBC.

Comments (36) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Business and Markets | The Dark Side


1. Anonzymous on June 30, 2014 9:33 AM writes...

This is classic lurid tabloid "journalism". The corruption allegations are the real deal. What Reilly does with his Chinese girlfriend is his private business.

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2. Hap on June 30, 2014 10:28 AM writes...

Mostly - if the blackmail and the bribery allegations are connected, it more strongly implies a shakedown for cash by whatever means are necessary.

The people wanting blackmail cash wouldn't in most cases be the people profiting from bribery allegations, and revealing the evidence for which they were blackmailing would threaten their ability to make money from the blackmail. Either the blackmailers thought that they had no chance to get any money, they were hoping to scare other blackmailees into paying up, or they were connected to the people profiting from the bribery accusations. The first two are possible, but probably less likely - it doesn't make any sense to hose the target unless you have personal reasons to do so, and if you were looking to get money from others at GSK who were subject to blackmail, accusing the company of bribery makes it less likely (they might not be around to get money from). So putting the bribery allegations in with blackmail looks like a tactic to get money out of GSK, and not a legitimate anticorruption tactic. It's also possible, though, that GSK wants the corruption and blackmail tied together, to minimize their guilt in the bribery, and that the paper is acting to help them.

I'm sure the whole thing doesn't do Reilly any good.

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3. Anonymous on June 30, 2014 10:39 AM writes...

This is getting a bit dull already. Can we stick in a murder charge, just to liven it up a little?

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4. Chemjobber on June 30, 2014 10:47 AM writes...

I'd love to know what leverage the picture-takers-and-emailers thought they were getting on Mr. Reilly. Is he married? Does GSK have a "employees must not have sex" policy?

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5. The Aqueous Layer on June 30, 2014 11:01 AM writes...

According the The Telegraph, he and his wife are separated.

Before or after the video of him having sex with his girlfriend is not mentioned...

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6. Hap on June 30, 2014 11:14 AM writes...

Do they know who the woman was? Could she have been a target, or could she have had some other role that preclude Reilly from involvement with her (regulator, local sales or technical person, etc.)?

Cash is always a good motive (though, the bribery stuff doesn't make sense with it). Alternatively, if the blackmailer were near the woman Mr. Reilly was fooling with, maybe he/she was hoping to drive him off? It could also be garden-variety maliciousness, too. People are weird, sometimes.

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7. A Nonny Mouse on June 30, 2014 11:31 AM writes...

Seems that they traced the person and she is well connected...... No firewall on this rag!

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8. Anonymous on June 30, 2014 11:54 AM writes...

Seems like tots of trouble for GSK after they retracted that Nature paper...

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9. Chemjobber on June 30, 2014 12:14 PM writes...

@TAL: Ahh, that is relevant. Bluntly put, it seems to me that Those Who Recorded probably have an overestimated sense of how ashamed Western executives might be at such behavior of their subordinates.

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10. MoMo on June 30, 2014 12:18 PM writes...

Let be a lesson to all who do business in China-always, I repeat-ALWAYS! cover hotel mirrors with a blanket or towel.

I also carry a 1MHz to 3 GHz personal radio frequency detector as well- good for lots of laughs!

When in China you are never alone. But then GSK execs were never that bright.

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11. that's what she said on June 30, 2014 12:49 PM writes...

In trouble with a sex tape 'after he probed a powerful businesswoman.'

Brightened my day.

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12. annonie on June 30, 2014 1:05 PM writes...

This just adds more head to the whole thing.

re #10: Reilly certainly was never alone.

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13. Mica on June 30, 2014 1:43 PM writes...

Typical honey trap -- pretty much every businessman above certain level is being a potential target for this in some countries, for blackmail and pressure to betray interests of their employer. I've heard my first story about this going on in China more than a decade ago... and from thereon very often (including at the level of offer of "sex" for contracts to make compounds). There are other ways, attempts to get one drunk... set up traffic accidents, etc. All of these we have already seen in East Germany, many years ago (next stage is: if you refuse, you will be run over by a truck -- courtesy of STASI or its PRC equivalent). Risk of doing business in some countries...

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14. A Nonny Mouse on June 30, 2014 2:11 PM writes...


Quite correct. I heard the story (one of many) about the Mafia run pharma business in Italy where there were two "secretaries" (blond and brunette) who had wired apartments. Strange that this company was one of the few that could get key intermediates. Lots more stories about this set up but I still have a few years of life left (hopefully).

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15. NoDrugsNoJobs on June 30, 2014 2:35 PM writes...

She may have been a Pfizer secret agent

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16. Anonymous on June 30, 2014 2:38 PM writes...

Moral lesson: Keep your dong to yourself / wife

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17. anon on June 30, 2014 3:36 PM writes...

June 20th, 2014. UCLA chemistry professor Pat Harran avoids prison time in fatal lab fire case;

This society is rigged. no conviction, no jail time, still conducts a group. at the very least Pat should have been forced out of the university and stripped of his academic appointment.

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19. Anonymous on June 30, 2014 4:38 PM writes...

Afraid I'm going to have to disagree.

The bottom line is, no one can protect you in a lab but yourself. If the lab safety is substandard, you take measures to improve your environment, even if you're not the one in charge of safety. You cannot rely on another person in this field. There are too many inexperienced/bad scientists in labs.

If you're technique is poor, bad things will happen. It's your own responsibility to know your own limits.

It's unfortunate what happened, but she could have prevented it despite what the working conditions were. tBuLi is handled safely all the time, and could have been handled safely in this guy's lab. Blaming the PI and imprisoning him makes no sense to me.

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20. imica on June 30, 2014 6:08 PM writes...

17: " the very least Pat should have been forced out of the university and stripped of his academic appointment."


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21. A Nonny Mouse on July 1, 2014 3:34 AM writes...

More factual piece from the BBC

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22. exGlaxoid on July 1, 2014 8:14 AM writes...

Well I am glad to know that I was not the one who caused GSK to go down hill. When do I get my job back, since I managed to work there for 19 years without causing a government incident? When I started there, Glaxo and Boroughs Wellcome were both great companies with lots of innovate drugs and vaccines coming out yearly from their US and British labs. Now GSK appears to be lead mostly by people who don't seem to care nearly as much about medicine as other more personal needs.

The sad part is that much of the problem comes from China's government and culture as well, but they should have known that from the start, as other companies have also lost trying to play hardball with the Chinese government. The US is loosing its shirt to China, and the big corporations are leading the rush to help China take over industry. Once the CEOs all lose their jobs, then we'll all be unemployed and broke.

I think it is time to vote out the current board and put back some doctors, scientists and people who care about others rather than themselves. That would be good for healthcare, patients and employees. BW at least had compassion for the sick and a true desire to cure illness.

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23. MoMo on July 1, 2014 2:57 PM writes...

Anonymous- "If your technique is poor bad things will happen"

Harran had bad technique, not paying attention to those working with T-BuLi- and bad things did happen and a young woman died.

There is no excuse for such PI negligence.

Your comments are an insult to the young woman and her family.

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24. Anonymous on July 1, 2014 3:40 PM writes...

23: There is no excuse for not preparing yourself to prevent these accidents with training if you are going to be using hazardous agents.
Death is an occupational hazard of lab scientists. The minute you ignore this or exercise poor judgment in high risk situations is when people get killed, and she made many critical poor judgments.

Truth hurts. Tough. I'm not going to soften the fact.

Going after Harran to the degree that they have is immature and disgraceful. Was Harran supposed to put her lab coat on for her? If she had just done that, then she would have survived. But she didn't, she was wearing a polyester sweater, was reusing the syringe multiple times, was working alone, and didn't get help. You learn in any school's safety orientation never to do these things. But she did it anyway. It's her fault.

If she had killed someone else as a result of the accident, she would be the one being charged with criminal negligance, not Harran. Look at it that way.

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25. Chemjobber on July 1, 2014 4:07 PM writes...

Sheri Sangji was not working alone; postdoctoral fellow Weifeng Chen was also in the room.

There is no evidence that she actually reused the syringe in her experiment, although it is clear from her notebook that she intended to.

Jyllian Kemsley's article on the Sangji incident is linked in my handle. I suggest that those (including #24) who like to spread falsehoods about the case re-read it.

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26. MoMo on July 1, 2014 4:33 PM writes...

Stop the blathering Anon. Many of us here have trained many students, and last thing you do is let a student run reactions that can be catastrophic without supervision.

But go ahead and blame the victim and deceased because you think she was at fault.

Harran should have picked up on her lack of good " technique" and kept her from working on that reaction.

Its that simple for PIs that are engaged and truly responsible.

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27. Anonymous on July 1, 2014 5:01 PM writes...

So then Chen was in the room, but your article says that it's not clear whether or not he was aware that she was using tBuLi.
I remembered it wrong. Last time I read about her was years ago. As for saying that I like spreading falsehoods, you assume too much; you're putting words in my mouth and I don't like it.

Not wearing a lab coat while working with tBULi or anything for that matter is horrific technique. Most chemicals can lead to serious injury if PPE isn't used. Using PPE is ultimately up to the student, not the PI

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28. Mica on July 2, 2014 8:33 AM writes...

MoMo: Obviously you studied details -- was she a student? Was this her first time doing the reaction? Without going back and re-reading -- I think that the answer to both is no.

So, yes, tragedy and sadness all over, young life lost and family in pain. Horrible. I think Anonymous agrees with this.

But, also a clear case of prosecutorial overreach and the case was likely settled only because of the pressure by UCLA to make this story go away. I think that everyone should stand up against prosecutorial abuses, you know, along the lines: "first they came for..., I was quiet..., when they came for me..."

Short of the clear-cut proof that the PI insisted on rushed and unsafe techniques, nothing to be done, other than increase general awareness of dangers of unsafe practices in lab. As a result, some PIs might want to be more hands-on when it comes to training and safety... but, that's a personal choice. Particularly difficult with many of the PIs having interdisciplinary groups, in which a student with minimal organic chemistry training tries to do a reaction, while mostly everyone around is in bio-sciences.

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29. Chemjobber on July 2, 2014 9:31 AM writes...

Sheri Sangji was not a student at UCLA; she was a research associate who was hired a few months after receiving her B.S. from Pomona College.

This was the second time doing the reaction, but the first time doing it at that scale (~150 mL tBuLi/pentane solution.)

Professor Harran was charged with 3 felony labor law violations (via the LA Times):

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office charged Harran and the UC regents with three counts each of willfully violating occupational health and safety standards, resulting in Sangji's death. Harran and UCLA are accused of failing to correct unsafe work conditions in a timely manner, to require clothing appropriate for the work being done and to provide proper chemical safety training.

Can you tell me where the clear prosecutorial overreach was?

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30. Mica on July 2, 2014 10:33 AM writes...

Chemjobber: Thanks for confirming what we all knew...not a student, and not the first time. So, I think some of us owe apology to Anonymous, for jumping on a simple memory thing... now, "a few months" and "not on that scale (and only one number is given)" are two very imprecise qualifications meant, I guess, to increase our inability to address this rationally!?

Haran was "...WILLFULLY..." and "...FAILING in a TIMELY MANNER to correct unsafe conditions" is not an overreach? I mean, my English is far from perfect but, this is an overreach of pretty big proportions. For what? Not having people wearing lab coats? Because, essentially, other than that:

Haran willfully (i.e., intentionally or in veni, vidi, fugi manner) did not correct an occurrence of leaving a bottle of flammable solvent open (I mean, how do you train people not to do it -- but, what's next, don't drink chemicals?) next to doing something (undefined, because we did not find out what exactly) with a highly flammable material, which Haran was supposed to do by being physically present when his technician was performing reaction that she already did before (i.e., different scale, but less than an order of magnitude -- am I right? please correct me?).

Yes, off with his head... (Note: I don't address proper chemistry safety training -- this is kind of shifty thing, i.e., I don't know what UCLA was providing -- it's a state university, and they can get away with much more-- , and also, if she was told "read Aldrich protocol" and do it, it was up to her to say "I have no idea what this means". In this sense, UCLA might be actually liable, and should be sued by family.)

OK, again, I know -- we all feel sorry, and I really don't want to leave an impression that I am trying to blame deceased person (I am not sure why not, however, but I just feel guilty) -- but, "we have to do something" and "off with his head" is not doing something, it's mob mentality which hurts everyone in the long run. Particularly, we should not be encouraging lawyers and prosecutors to be "making examples" (which is wrong on its own) and playing on emotions by showing cute photos (ugh... John Edwards comes to my mind :)).

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31. anon on July 2, 2014 11:00 AM writes...

@ Mica -- Please recognize that Harran was cited by the university's safety office for chronic violations in the recent past. for example keeping 10 gallon flammable solvents outside the yellow cabinets etc...

Historically, University profs tend to get away with flouting safety norms.

In my view, Harran does have blood on his hands. whether he escapes the law or not, he will have to live with this for the rest of his life. On moral grounds Harran and Dali must have resigned. these guys are average chemists with a below average ethics. Reminds me of SF Martin at UT, Austin. Blame the graduate student and retract the paper and degree, but conveniently keep your own job.

These guys are SCUM.

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32. mica on July 2, 2014 11:16 AM writes...

anon: I agree with most things you say... I would have trouble living with things like this, and would loose sleep. And so should Harran, unless he is a sociopath, he will be haunted by "I should have done something..." for the rest of his life. And he probably is haunted...

But, please, that's different from criminal responsibility. For example, your "...for example keeping 10 gallon flammable solvents outside the yellow cabinets etc..." -- I mean, if this is THE example you want to use to support "chronic violations", you have no experience in how these inspections work. I take solvent out, fire department passes, cites me. I put acrylamide solution in +4, they cite me. Wow, "off with my head".

Also, you know, Dali and Martin, are really different cases... and probably worthy of much discussion.

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33. Chemjobber on July 2, 2014 11:29 AM writes...

Mica: I believe I owe no apology to #24. In that #24's feelings are hurt, I retract the "like to" in my #25 - the rest of the statement stands.

We're all on the internet, the facts of the Sangji case are available to all, including yourself.

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34. anon on July 2, 2014 11:37 AM writes...

Profs know that safety enforcement is lax. they routinely look the other way OR downplay any citations.

I was raised in this culture. I run a fairly large lab today. if violations were to result in loss of life, there would be a certain part of "negligence" that I would be expected to take responsibility for (moral or otherwise).

In an industrial setting -- said managers would be fired ! along the same lines, these individuals such as Martin, Dali and Harran (who make large salaries) must give their academic appointments on their own accord. The ethics of the situation demand it (whether written or not).

It tarnishes all of the others that represent higher standards. The "criminality" aspect is left for the courts to decide.

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35. Mica on July 2, 2014 1:13 PM writes...

#anon -- "profs know..." is a generalization that's not helpful. Similar to "moral responsibility" -- I don't even know what that means because I am not you. Sounds nice, however, let's raise the red (black or green) banner around it. But, I suspect our differences might be generational -- my teachers used to smoke next to columns run with benzene outside of the hood. While shaking with left hand extraction funnels full with ether. I don't think we need that kind of manhood displays. :)

#chemjobber -- "In that #24 feelings are hurt..." - ugh, what a politician's apology... I guess this assumes that telling someone they LIKE to spread falsehoods just like that is OK baseline behavior ("moral" :))? I was actually more referring to MoMa's sad story about students, but since you volunteered...

Guys, there are such things and events that should be prosecuted. Actual, willful, confirmed by witnesses, encouragements to avoid safety steps in order to gain financial benefit (e.g., do things faster to get results for grant, in the context of academic lab) could even raise to manslaughter charges (or even more under some circumstances). UCLA might be liable (I have no idea, nor intend to study their safety protocols).

This is not it, even if we say "prosecutor did not pump up charges" (as they always do -- that's their SOP so I am comfortable with this generalization).

Again, while we may dislike person X's "morality" (whatever that means; same if we would disagree with X over politics), we should not support and encourage behaviors by government representatives that will in the long run hurt us all. Even if we want to see person X hurt, because we think that hurting them would lead to the bright future for poor graduate students (which I recognize as a noble cause).

Anyway, thanks for the lively discussion... best wishes, Mica

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36. MoMo on July 2, 2014 4:32 PM writes...

No Mica,

I didnt study whether she was a student or employee (that's even worse).

I just have the common sense not to allow novice chemists to do reactions with pyrophoric compounds that ignite in air. And we pay attention to such reactions that are done daily.

The deceased did not have that option.

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