Genentech lobbyist's life and death makes pharma waves

A Roche lobbyist who generated enormous sales for the company allegedly kept millions in consulting payments to himself.

A Genentech lobbyist who generated enormous sales for the company allegedly kept millions in consulting payments for himself and ended his own life after authorities and the company began looking into the charges, a Wall Street Journal investigation found.

During his time lobbying for Roche and its Genentech unit, Evan Morris’ tactics boosted the company's top line by hundreds of millions of dollars, with the company's flu drug Tamiflu and cancer treatment Avastin among the products that benefited, the WSJ says. Under investigation for embezzlement in July 2015, Morris committed suicide at a Virginia golf course.

In a statement to FiercePharma, a spokesperson for the Roche subsidiary said the company became suspicious after it received an anonymous letter in May 2015. Genentech launched an internal investigation that found a senior employee “violated our policies and procedures, created schemes to misappropriate company funds for personal gain, and deliberately concealed his actions.”

Genentech "immediately" suspended that employee and “began efforts to recover the misappropriated funds," according to the company statement.

“Although we believe this was an isolated situation, we have put additional measures and controls in place to further protect against this type of misconduct in the future," Genentech's spokesperson said.

To build sales of the company's flu treatment Tamiflu, Morris seized on a 2005 avian influenza outbreak by hiring consultants to push news to generate fear about the virus, according to the WSJ. Dozens of U.S. senators wrote to President George W. Bush about their concerns, and the president authorized an emergency stockpile that bought $1 billion worth of Roche's med.

Morris was also heavily involved in handling the FDA's deliberations over Avastin's breast cancer indication, the WSJ reports. Green-lighted for that form of the disease on condition of postmarketing data confirming its efficacy, Avastin faced the loss of that approval after the data didn't measure up. The FDA called an Advisory Committee meeting to discuss revoking the approval, and Morris helped campaign against it, partly by recruiting patients and others to testify at that committee hearing.

In the end, Avastin lost that indication, but Morris took credit for a year's delay—and the $1 billion in sales that delay protected, the newspaper says. The drug is still approved for other cancers, including colon cancer. 

Morris’ lavish life, profiled in the WSJ, featured expensive houses, wines, influential contacts and more, before it came quickly crashing down. An obituary for Morris simply says he “resided in Alexandria, VA.” He was born in 1977 and died on July 9, 2015, the obituary says.

Genentech said it is “deeply disappointed and saddened by these events.”