Humanosphere is on hiatus. Many thanks to our web design, development and hosting partner Culture Foundry for keeping the site active while we plan our next move. Culture Foundry builds, evolves and supports next-level websites and applications for clients you know, and you couldn’t ask for a better partner to help you thrive in digital. If you’re considering an ambitious website design or development project, we encourage you to make them your very first call.

The Gates Foundation connection to the Glaxo drug fraud scandal

In a ‘landmark’ legal case, the pharmaceutical giant firm GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) pled guilty this week to engaging in fraudulent, criminal behavior which included covering up adverse drug side-effects, promoting ineffective therapies and hiding unfavorable data — and will pay a record $3 billion in fines.

Most news reports quoted GSK’s CEO Andrew Witty blaming the misconduct on others and “a different era for the company,” adding that such behavior will not be tolerated. “I want to express our regret and reiterate that we have learnt from the mistakes that were made.”

Tachi Yamada
Gates Foundation

One of the most high-profile GSK executives alleged to have engaged in misbehavior is Tachi Yamada, former head of global health for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation who was before that head of research and development for GSK.

Yamada, while he was head of global health for Gates Fdn, was accused in a U.S. Senate hearing of bullying a scientist to not publish negative findings about a GSK diabetes drug. This was fairly big news at the time and such behavior is part of the federal complaint against the drug firm.

As a journalist blogger, I don’t have as much time as the major news outlets to do a lot of original reporting so I count on the big guns to do the work which I can then plagiarize, uh, I mean ‘curate.’

But so far as I can tell, nobody has made any mention of Yamada’s role in this case. Yet he was pretty high profile — at the center of the controversy surrounding the drug company’s attempt to cover-up adverse side effects of its diabetes drug Avandia.

Here are some of the stories that came out years ago, while he was at the Gates Foundation:

CBS News Meet Glaxo’s Fixer

Guardian Glaxo’s handling of drug Avandia damned by US Senate

ABC News Charity chief accused of bullying critic

Wall Street Journal Glaxo’s criticized for response to critics

Yet none of the news stories about this record-setting case mentions Tachi Yamada.

The only report that comes close (in a sort of through-the-looking-glass way) is this story in Forbes about GSK by Mathew Herper entitled The Terrible Things GlaxoSmithKline Did Wrong — and the Thing It’s Doing Right

Putting aside the redundancy in the Forbes headline (if you do a thing that’s “terrible,” chances are it’s also “wrong”), the gist of the story is a recounting of GSK’s crimes and misdemeanors. Herper appropriately lashes the drug firm, but then like so many news reports goes on to cite GSK CEO Witty blaming the crimes on people ‘who have since left the company’ and notes it is a new era.

And it is GSK’s partnership with the Gates Foundation on trying to develop an effective malaria vaccine that Herper cites as evidence of a new, honest and more open culture at the drug company:

So did Glaxo do anything right? All of the actions predated the tenure of current GlaxoSmithKline chief executive Andrew Witty, who has been trying to improve the company’s reputation. He has pushed forward with efforts to develop medicines for poor nations, including a malaria vaccine that Glaxo is developing with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

True enough. But how odd to have mentioned GSK-Gates partnership on malaria and left out any mention of the foundation’s former global health chief as one of the key players in this scandal.

So I guess I will remind everybody of this other Gates-GSK connection and leave it (almost) at that.

I will just add that it’s clear to me, as someone who’s covered the Gates Foundation for many years, that Yamada did a lot there to build new bridges between industry and the world of philanthropy. No matter what you think of the drug industry, it has to be a part of the global health program. Somebody has to make (and sell) these drugs and vaccines.

And many would say Yamada did a lot to bring together a somewhat fractured and dispirited global health team at the Seattle philanthropy which had been thrown into disarray by Yamada’s predecessor, Rick Klausner. Klausner had a very different vision for the global health gang — very science-oriented — which didn’t take and ruffled feathers.

Lastly, Yamada, who recently left the Gates Foundation to work for a Japanese drug company, seemed to many a decent and gentle man. We don’t know the whole story behind any of this, of course, and he was clearly just one of many in this historic scandal.

But there’s no getting away that Yamada played a leading role in the largest health fraud case in American history and that, given his much greater influence as head of a philanthropic program that many say sets the agenda for global health, it might be worth mentioning.


About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.