So what do you want to know?
Millar was sitting in Mike Eaves office on the eighth floor of a large teaching hospital in West London. His office was at the back overlooking a vast cemetery that stretched east towards Fulham.
Mike leaned forward and stabbed a button on his keyboard to fire up the screen in front of him. Mike had always been comfortably built but he was now starting to fill out into a substantial figure. Not portly. He was too big for that. More like a retired rugby player who was still on five pints a day but without the exercise. He was dressed in a blue striped shirt with matching tie. His jacket was on the back of his chair. Files took up most of the space on his table. On the walls were a number of certificates and pictures of Mike shaking hands with smartly dressed people. The rest of the wall space was taken up with charts of the human body (just to remind him )and an organisational chart of the hospital and the trust.
Eaves had started off life as a health journalist, which is where Millar had first met him. But unlike Millar he had migrated into PR and information and had got himself into a cushy number at the NHS. Eaves probably wouldn’t describe it as such but a chunky pension and six weeks holiday a year looked mighty attractive from where Millar was sitting.
Mike was married with three nice children and lived in a decent house in Surrey. From time to time Millar envied Mike and sometimes wished he had gone down that route. But he didn’t. And he secretly knew he couldn’t handle all the corporate bollocks and hat doffing that went with the job.
They had stayed in touch and met in pubs on a regular basis although Mike had sworn off heavy drinking sessions. Millar told him tales of crooked politicians and Mike gave his version of the vast amounts of money that sloshed around the health service. And the waste. He had a few stories but he was not going to share them with Millar. He had a nice lifestyle and he wasn’t going to risk blowing that giving him a few headlines. Millar respected that in Mike. He had taken the decision to look after Maggie and the kids and park his investigative reporting skills into the file that said dormant. He was a shrewd man.
“What do you know about ZPI.”
“What sort of company are they?”
“ZPI.They are one of the biggest pharmas in the business. They make and market some of the best selling drugs in the world. Diabetes, schizophrenia, antidepressants. Most of what the Western world suffers from – they’ve got a drug for it. You are talking American. Multinational. Vast. Offices all over.
“What do you mean?
“I’ve no doubt it is a highly competitive business. How do they treat their employees. What would happen if a senior guy stepped out of line.”
Mike let out a cross between a snort and a chuckle.
They are probably no different to any other big business. Very corporate i would say. But they are not racketeers Sean and this ain’t the thirties. Messing up a Powerpoint presentation doesn’t mean they will be swimming with the fishes the next day.”
Sean smiled. “You know what I mean”
“Big business, especially in this business is a pretty well oiled machine. There is not much room for independent thinking. All the employees have got to sing from the same song sheet.
I hate that phrase.
Well you were never a corporate man Sean.
Guilty – I am happy to say.
Mike clenched his fist as some sort of physical analogy.
But if you are talking ruthless. Not far off. They apply pressure. They recruit key opinion makers. They will swamp you with information. They will set up conferences. Get learned professors to spout their party line. They will pay doctors to prescribe their drugs. They have a lot of power – a lot of influence.
Hang on a second – ZPI pay doctors to prescribe their drugs?
Oh don’t be so naive. Of course. You think doctors are saints. Some of them are as commercial as any city trader. There has to be some compensation for looking after the sick and the elderly. And the pharma companies know that. They can tap into greed. Don’t forget these companies are run by a lot of smart people backed up by some steely faced hatchet men. They don’t take any prisoners.
And the drugs themselves?
Mike looked at Millar blankly.
How do the drugs get to market. Do they just come out of a lab.
After about ten years development and extensive trials they do. Most don’t make it. Which is why when one gets the licence they have to batter it for ten years to earn all the money back from the R and D. It’s fill your boots time
And after that?
It goes generic. Then anyone can make that drug which reduces the price to buttons. What’s your angle here.
Millar told Mike the story how Sophia Frampton described. And how she thought her brother could have been assassinated.
Mike folded his arms and puffed out his cheeks.
I remember that. He had a good reputation. Doctor Stephen Frampton. He was a proper science man. Highly ethical. Oddly enough the story of his suicide disappeared quite quickly. But things move pretty sharply in this business. There is no sentiment. He was replaced by an American guy. They flew him over from Chicago.
Was the story brushed under the carpet for any reason?
I wouldn’t say that. It was dealt with quickly. It was a shock at the time. Made a small paragraph in the Nationals. You might want to check that. But there are some decent obits in the medical mags. Might be a clue in there. But they would probably just talk about his achievements
But you haven’t heard any rumours – any suspicions.
Nothing has come up on my radar. But to be blunt it is never likely. Frampton was a research guy responsible for the development of drugs. We tend to only have contact with the people selling and marketing. Although we get invited to conferences to share in the research and the effectiveness from time to time.
Probably in nice places I’ll wager.
Why else would we rock up? Mike laughed and shot Millar a grin. “We are not going to give up a weekend to go to Croydon are we?
“And plenty of goodies handed around?”
Mike laughed again. “I wish. Not these days. Used to be – but they cracked down on lavish gifts. Probably all down to bastards like you.”
“Just making sure the NHS is squeaky clean” Millar retorted sounding like some do gooder that had never taken a free lunch in his life.
Mike adjusted the cuffs on his shirt as if to emphasise his sense of responsibility.
“There is a world of difference between what we are dealing with here at the NHS and the Pharmas. We are looking after patients. The drug companies are looking after their shareholders. Our worlds are parallel but don’t necessarily collide.”
But they sell you drugs.
Yes. But it’s a complex process. Heard of NICE?
National Institute for Clinical something.
“That will do. They are the ones that do the number crunching and will recommend what drugs we are allowed to use. If the drug is too expensive and we are talking hospital drugs here – it doesn’t make the list. And if in their opinion they have not done enough trials or is subsequently found to have adverse side effects – those drugs are banned. “
Does that happen a lot?
Not as much as it used to. And that’s because of the trials. You will have heard about the notorious Thalidomide case.
That was a tragedy that happened because the drugs were not tested properly over a sustained period. They were rushed through.
Could that have happened with one of ZPI’s drugs. Had Frampton found something in the trial data that was not right.
“Why do you say that.”
That’s the theory of his sister.
Mike adjusted a photograph of his family on his desk and took a swig of some brown liquid that might have been disguised as tea at some point. He steepled his fingertips together, jutted his jaw out and spoke to nobody in particular.
It could be – and it’s purely conjecture- but if Frampton had seen something that might have jeopardised one of their best sellers. I am guessing. It’s a scenario. But he was a research guy right? He might have flagged up that data with the company or he was going to go public. If it was for their new antidepressant that would wipe billions off their share price.
Is that a reality.
As I said I am just surmising. He might have committed suicide genuinely. You can make a case for any scena rio if you use your imagination.
But it’s possible that Frampton might have been about to publish some information about one of their drugs not being fit for purpose.
It’s possible. A lot of these guys get asked to lecture or submit papers by esteemed journals – the BMJ, the Lancet. These are influential mags. A few choice phrases or some authenticated research and kiss goodbye to the business.
So if this ZPI company got wind of that they are probably not going to appreciate Frampton’s personal opinion.
These drug companies keep people on a tight rein. You can’t just go shooting your mouth off. Any opinion, any paper Frampton was going to submit would have to be cleared by the company. He was in their employ. He would have known that. He would have been tied down by a very strict contract. Secrecy – product confidentiality. He doesn’t or should I say didn’t strike me as the kind of person who would go rogue. Certainly not a whistleblower. But you can never tell. I never met the guy. As I said its just a theory but then you could make anything up. There might have been other reasons.
Mike got up from his desk
You mentioned that this Frampton woman gave you a stick with all this data on it.
Got it here
Where did she get it from?
Said that her brother gave it to her the night he died.
That’s what I thought. But she said she called in on him on her way home.
You think he knew something.
It looks that way – why else would he give it to her.
What’s on it?
A whole mass of figures. Doesn’t mean much to me. Not too sure I know what I am looking for.
Do you want me to have a look?
Be my guest.
Millar handed Mike the stick from his pocket.
He plugged it in.
“It’s not got any viruses or anything.”
“It came up clean on mine.”
Mike flicked from page to page.
“See what you mean. Complex stuff.”
“How are we going to get this interpreted then?”
“I guess you could just hand it to the police”
“What miss out on a potentila good story and a pay day.”
“This is stolen property.”
I didn’t steal it. It was given to me.”
Millar smiled. “ On that stick does it say anything about being classified information and the property of ZPI”
“I might be able to help out. Not me personally but I know a guy who understands this sort of stuff. His name is Jeff Sabon. He was a hot shot chemist in his time.
But not now.
Bit fond of the Peruvian marching powder. He went off to Indonesia to study dengue fever or something and came back a changed man. Brilliant but a total maverick. Unemployable for any company in truth. But he knows his stuff
Can I trust the man.
Of course you can’t trust him but whatever is on this stick – he will work out. And right now you haven’t got any other options
“He will need paying.”
“Of course he will. What are we talking about here.”
“Budget a grand.”
“Sounds fair. And how do I pay him.”
“I guess when he has read it. I will give him your number. And probably best that when you meet you are discreet. He is not the most loved man in the world of pharmaceuticals. He has got a bit of form. Always trying to negotiate whistle blowing money.”
“Not a bad ruse I suppose.”
True. But as I said tread lightly. There are a numbe of people out there who would be glad to see the back of him.
Would ZPI be one of them?
Probably. Give me a couple of days.