Special Report: Insider alleges Eli Lilly blocked her efforts to sound alarms about U.S. drug factory

(Reuters) – On a chilly spring morning in 2019, Amrit Mula arrived in her office at pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Co’s factory in Branchburg, New Jersey, to find a desk drawer open that she had kept locked. Her files were missing.

Mula was a top human resources officer at what was one of America’s largest biotech plants. Over the years, she had been investigating employee complaints about manufacturing problems related to multiple drugs, including the company’s blockbuster diabetes medication, Trulicity, according to internal company documents and email correspondence reviewed by Reuters.

Among the most serious allegations: Records had been falsified or destroyed in the wake of manufacturing mistakes. In one case, according to 2018 emails among executives, company-mandated quality assurance documents were missing for Trulicity, which security filings show garnered more than $4 billion in sales in 2019.

Shortly after Mula discovered her files missing that day, her boss told her that Lilly was eliminating her position at the Branchburg plant, where she had worked nearly 15 years, according to a confidential “demand” letter from Mula’s lawyers to Lilly’s attorneys dated Dec. 30, 2019.

The letter, which seeks unspecified damages, portrays Mula as a good-faith whistleblower who repeatedly pressed her superiors to address serious problems at the factory, including staffing shortages, poor training, and record destruction and falsifications. Her inquiries, according to the letter and internal correspondence, were downplayed, ignored and sometimes blocked.

When she persisted, Lilly responded by “marginalizing, harassing and eventually terminating” her, according to the demand letter. Mula has not sued her former employer.

Reuters could not independently verify every claim in the letter. However, based on internal correspondence and other company documents reviewed by reporters, Mula repeatedly received complaints and raised concerns about everything from quality control to record-keeping with a host of Lilly managers and executives. Three former factory workers who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity said such problems were endemic at Branchburg, and U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspectors later identified some of the same concerns there.

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