Consumer Watchdog Group Sues Novartis and GlaxoSmithKline for allegedly false statements on Voltaren to treat osteoarthritis

watchdog-300x200An Australian Consumer Watchdog Agency Says Misleading Claims Will Ultimately Hurt the Public

An Australian Consumer Watchdog group is taking two big pharmaceutical companies to court. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission says that Novartis (NVS) and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) are making false claims about a topical gel and pocketing the profits.

Misleading the Public

According to Stat News, the consumer watchdog agency, ACCC, has already fined Reckitt Benckiser $4.5 million for “deceptive practices in promoting a pain medication.” Now, they say Novartis and GlaxoSmithKline are creating similar confusion with the promotion of their Voltaren Osteo Gel.

The ACCC says the more expensive Osteo Gel, is the same as the less expensive Voltaren Emulgel, but is being marketed as an improvement in treating osteoarthritis.  Stat News says, that the two products are “identically formulated and contain the same active ingredient.”

In a statement, the head of the consumer watchdog group, Rod Sims said that consumers are likely to have been misled into purchasing Osteo Gel thinking that it is different from Emulgel.

He says that “both products are equally effective in treating not only osteoarthritis, but also a range of other pain conditions.”  The lawsuit alleges GSK and Novartis “engaged in a deliberate commercial strategy to differentiate the products in a way that was likely to mislead consumers.”

According to the article, the ACCC spot checked supermarkets and pharmacies, and found that Osteo Gel often sells upwards of 30% of the cost to Emulgel.

Big Pharma Response

Stat News says that the companies are not staying quiet in the face of the legal action.  A Glaxo spokeswoman did acknowledge the products contain the same formulation but should be allowed to be marketed differently.  She said, “Our intention in marketing certain products around symptoms is to help consumers choose a product containing an appropriate active ingredient for their condition from the vast array of options available.”

The spokeswoman also says that they did redesign the packaging for Osteo Gel, based on the advice of regulators. The label now says it has the “same effective formula” as Emulgel, but the ACCC claims this may still be misleading.

As for Novartis, the article points out that Glaxo actually bought the gels from the company, last year.  Novartis is staying quiet and refereeing all questions back to GSK.

Jeffrey A. Newman represents whistleblowers: 1-800-682-7157