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CORRUPTION

Greece investigates Swiss pharma Novartis over bribery claims

Greece's justice minister on Tuesday promised a "swift and thorough" investigation into suspected corruption by civil servants and Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis.

Greece investigates Swiss pharma Novartis over bribery claims
The Novartis building in Basel. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP
Stavos Kontonis ordered an inquiry after “denunciations concerning bribes paid to functionaries by Novartis” appeared in the press, a ministerial statement said.
   
“The judicial investigation will be swift and thorough,” it added.
   
According to a judicial source, a preliminary investigation has been going on for two months and around 178 people in Greece have been questioned.
   
The source said anti-corruption prosecutors had visited Novartis's premises near Athens to gather evidence.
   
The case gained attention in recent days following a suicide attempt in Athens on Sunday, New Year's Day, by a Novartis manager.
   
That attempt was thwarted by police and according to the judicial source, the manager was one of those questioned over corruption.
   
For its part Novartis issued a statement saying it was “aware of the media reports about our business practices” in Greece and that it was seeking more information and was cooperating with the authorities.
   
“Novartis is committed to the highest standards of ethical business conduct and regulatory compliance in all aspects of its work and takes any allegation of misconduct extremely seriously,” the company said in the statement.
   
The judicial source also claimed American FBI agents were in Athens to help Greek authorities investigate Novartis.
   
The Swiss pharmaceutical giant was investigated by US authorities in 2014, accused of paying bribes in order to boost sales of some of its medicines, and was later fined $390 million by the US Justice Department.

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NOVARTIS

Switzerland’s Novartis to help make Pfizer-BioNTech Covid vaccine

Swiss pharmaceuticals giant Novartis said Friday it had signed an initial agreement to help produce the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against Covid-19, as countries scramble to boost supplies.

Switzerland's Novartis to help make Pfizer-BioNTech Covid vaccine
Novartis will help manufacture Pfizer vaccine. Photo by AFP.

The rare act of cooperation — in an industry usually marked by cut-throat competition — comes after French pharma group Sanofi announced earlier this week that it would also team up with rivals Pfizer and BioNTech to help produce 125 million doses of their jab.

The two-dose vaccine, which is based on mRNA technology, has been shown to be around 95 percent effective and has been approved for use by the World Health Organization and in some 50 countries.

But it is in limited supply as nations around the world race to immunise their populations against the coronavirus, which has killed nearly 2.2 million people in just over a year.

Novartis said in a statement that it would use its sterilised manufacturing facilities at its site in Stein, Switzerland to help produce the Pfizer-BioNTech jabs.

Under the agreement, the company said it would “take bulk mRNA active ingredient from BioNTech and fill this into vials under aseptic conditions for shipment back to BioNTech for their distribution to healthcare system customers around the world”.

Once a final agreement is reached, Novartis said it expected to begin production in the second quarter of the year, with initial shipment of finished product expected in the third quarter.

Steffen Lang, Head of Novartis Technical Operations, stressed that the company was “committed to leverage our manufacturing capabilities to help support the supply of COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics around the world”.

“We expect this to be the first of a number of such agreements,” he said in the statement.

Novartis said it was already in “advanced discussions” with a number of other companies about with other production tasks, including of mRNA, therapeutic protein and raw material production for Covid vaccines and therapeutics. 

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