J&J, Teva show different manufacturing responsibility styles

Can sprawling Big Pharma companies maintain quality control at the companies they've acquired? That's a question posed by Joe Graedon, a consumer advocate, about giant generics maker Teva in the New York Times. Teva has spent $20 billion on acquisitions over the last decade.

Graedon says he doesn't have an answer, but has noticed problems. He's referring to the warning letter that Teva received from the FDA last December, which cites "serious violations" of good manufacturing practices. But we might also apply his question to another acquisition-rich drugmaker: Johnson & Johnson.

Teva points out in the Times article that the FDA action is "a rare public rebuke" for the company and that its commitment to quality remains intact, in contrast to competitors that have set up shop in India and China to lower manufacturing costs. Teva execs talk about quality, on the record, with Times reporter Natasha Singer; North American CEO William Marth also makes available Bruce Murray, VP for supply chain operations, to the reporter.

For J&J, the public rebuke is not quite so rare: it has racked up four recalls of its McNeil Tylenol brand products since January. CEO Bill Weldon says the recalls are "a matter of great concern" in a company blog post and "a disappointment" to J&J. "We will make whatever changes are needed at McNeil to fully restore the quality of its manufacturing," he writes.

Weldon makes McNeil the red-headed stepchild of J&J in his blog. He points the finger at the bad business unit, expresses parental disappointment, and then reassures all by promising a rescue by the venerable drugmaker.

Teva, by contrast, acknowledges its manufacturing quality problem. It puts the matter in the larger context of the drug industry. Nowhere does it mention the failure of a business unit.

Teva seems a lot more in control of its business and its problems, despite the inadequacies so far of its repeated responses to the FDA's warning. It appears not just sincere but capable of fixing those problems. J&J, by contrast, is passing the buck in the Teflon way that Weldon, from the security of his own blog, publicly chastises that reckless upstart McNeil.

I can see who takes responsibility for the manufacturing missteps at Teva. But who is in charge at J&J--or is it McNeil? - George Miller

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