With its deal last year to combine consumer health operations with Novartis ($NVS) in a joint venture that GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) will run, GSK CEO Andrew Witty bet a big piece of the drugmaker's future on products like OTC pain meds and toothpaste. While Witty has lauded the future of that operation, it has stumbled in that market with the recall of nearly 4 million tubes of toothpaste products that may give users splinters.
GSK is recalling dozens of lots--3,977,252 tubes--made up of different varieties of Biotene and Sensodyne toothpaste, from the U.S., Puerto Rico and Taiwan. According to the FDA's most recent Enforcement Report, "fragments of wood were found when the product was extruded onto a toothbrush." The toothpaste was actually manufactured for GSK by Oratech, a Utah-based contractor.
According to a letter to retailers posted by Smith Drugs, GSK started the recall several weeks ago but the product has been on the market for nearly two years. It was shipped from June 2013 through April of this year. GSK said it was alerted to the problem by a "small number of complaints." In a statement today, GSK said only that it hasn't learned of any injuries from the tainted toothpaste but is recalling the product as a precautionary measure since they may contain wood fragments.
Witty has taken some heat over his decision beef up in consumer health while offloading oncology assets to Novartis at a time when cancer medicine is becoming one of the biggest growth areas. Witty has defended the decision citing the steady growth in sales of consumer health products and said the company might even spin the unit off with an IPO. "Future M&A in the consumer space could get quite interesting again," Witty said at the time.