Ousted AveXis CSO denies wrongdoing in Novartis data scandal, taps Elon Musk lawyer

Novartis’ AveXis has already fired its former chief scientific officer Brian Kaspar in connection with the Zolgensma data manipulation scandal. But now, we have the scientist’s side of the story from a lawyer who previously helped Elon Musk with his Twitter crisis—and he says he did nothing wrong.

Kaspar “categorically denies any wrongdoing,” according to a statement said to be from law firm Heuston Hannigan. “He is prepared to assert his rights and defend his conduct accordingly,” it added.

RELATED: Novartis' AveXis shifted top scientific leadership before Zolgensma data scandal erupted

John Hueston and his namesake firm previously led the prosecution in the Enron scandal that led to fraud sentences against the firm’s execs. Most recently, Heuston helped Tesla CEO Elon Musk in his tweets-instigated faceoff against the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that ended with a resolution.

FiercePharma hasn’t been able to independently verify the statement that’s circulating on social media. An inquiry sent to Heuston Hannigan hadn’t been replied to by publication time.

Brian Kaspar and his brother, Allan, were previously leading scientists at AveXis, Novartis’ gene therapy unit. Earlier this month, the FDA went public that some animal data in Zolgensma’s drug application package were falsified. At that time, the Kaspars had already left the company, AveXis announced a few days later on Aug. 14.

Turns out, they stopped daily work in early May, right around the time Novartis confirmed the data falsification allegations in-house. But the company didn’t tell the FDA about the problem until June 28, over a month after Zolgensma was approved.

The Kaspar brothers look to stand among “a small number of AveXis scientists” Novartis has said it was terminating in connection with the scandal. Now that Brian Kaspar has denied “any wrongdoing,” it’s not known whether they were simply let go due to oversight. 

We might know the answer soon. Senate Finance Committee chair Chuck Grassley has launched an investigation, requesting all records related to Novartis' in-house probe. He has set a deadline for Friday, Aug. 23, and Novartis said it's preparing for a response.

RELATED: Novartis CEO (sort of) admits mishandling Zolgensma crisis

It's also not yet clear whether Kaspar may be planning to sue his former employer for firing him, or whether he could be put on the stand in any future civil or criminal suits.

The FDA has said it will “use its full authorities to take action,” which may include criminal and civil penalties against AveXis. The case has been referred to the agency’s Office of Criminal Investigations, The Wall Street Journal recently reported, quoting one person familiar with the events.

In his statement, Brian Kaspar said he “stands proudly behind the safety and efficacy of the drug,” and that he has “cooperated with Avexis’s internal investigation.”