GSK whistleblower claims to have been fired after emailing CEO about Nicoderm concerns

GlaxoSmithKline's ($GSK) Nicoderm products are among the leaders in helping smokers kick their habits. But a former employee says the study that showed their edge over competitors was flawed and that he got the boot for pointing it out to his bosses and giving a heads-up by email to CEO Andrew Witty.

A lawsuit in state court in New Jersey says that Alexandre Selmani had been at GSK as a manager of biostatistics for about 6 years when in 2012 he discovered flaws in studies about Nicoderm patches and lozenges, Bloomberg reports. The suit says he was blown off when he took his concerns to supervisors so sent an email to Witty to warn him that the study problems had "potential health and safety issues for the general public."

The result of blowing the whistle, the suit claims, was that the company cut his pay and bonus for his $134,000-a-year job, and then last year fired him, the news service reports.

In an emailed statement, GSK said today that it has yet to be served with the suit but that it stands "fully behind Nicoderm as a safe and effective form of smoking cessation which continues to help people to quit." It said it goes to great lengths to promote ethics and compliance in the workplace and continually educates employees about how to report complaints "so they can be appropriately investigated."

GSK does not break out Nicoderm sales in the U.S., but it is a dominant player in the nicotine patch biz. In fact, when GSK and Novartis ($NVS) decided in 2014 to combine their consumer health operations, the Federal Trade Commission ordered Novartis to unload its $58-million-a-year Habitrol products to India's Dr. Reddy's Laboratories ($RDY) as a condition of approving the deal. It said that the companies were two of only three companies that sold private-label patches.

On top of the suit, GSK has had a whole different kind of problem with its Nicoderm operations. In 2014, manufacturing issues forced it to recall 335,000 vials of Nicorette Lozenges, leaving ex-smokers, many of them reliant on the lozenges, to hoard their stash and scour eBay for replacements. It took until last year for the U.K.-based company to get the problems fixed and get lozenges back in the hands of retailers.

- read the Bloomberg story