Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Dennis Gillings, June 10, 1999. Interview I-0072. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Launching a career in pharmaceutical consulting

In this excerpt, Gillings describes the event that launched his career in the pharmaceutical industry: a colleague recommended him to a company looking for someone to do some research on one of their drugs, which had proved lethal to a number of patients. Gillings researched and wrote a report the company welcomed. His performance became "the founding event of that consulting in the pharmaceutical sector."

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Dennis Gillings, June 10, 1999. Interview I-0072. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JM: Tell me about this call out of the blue, as you previously described it, from Hoechst in '75. DG: Yes. Well, there was a statistician at Hoechst that made the call, and he happened to have gone to school with Professor Gary Koch, that's spelled K-O-C-H. Gary was the co-founder of Quintiles with myself and a strong colleague of mine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Apparently Ken had asked Gary's advice about someone who might do a specialized piece of consultancy on a study. As a result of that conversation, the statistician at Hoechst called me, and so to me this came out of the blue. The problem roughly as follows, fifty-six people in the then West Germany had died while at the same time they were on a drug that was for diabetes. It was an oral sulphonyl urea. I think it's marketed today under the brand name of Diabeta. This association that all these people had died, and they were at the same time on the drug, was a bit damning. There was great concern that the drug should not be brought into this country, so I was asked to write an expert report reviewing what the reasons were for these deaths and whether there was any association with the drug. JM: Was it that episode specifically that immediately gave rise to this notion that there might be a wider range of consulting work available to you if you sought it out, or how did the consulting practice unfold? DG: I suppose. I was so successful in that particular project that until this day I [still] don't know whether I discovered something or whether the company already knew it. On this project, I found out that all the patients were elderly and had excretion problems through their kidney and liver. So, the drug built up in the system, obviously, with people that had these problems, and they died from hypoglycemia, too low blood sugar. My recommendation was that the drug just needed to be labeled so that these sorts of people were not prescribed the product. I think that turned out to be an accurate prediction. Now, what I don’t really know is whether they already knew that. I thought it was sufficiently easy to find out, so that I couldn’t believe they wouldn't have known it. But, who knows? I was sent these fifty-two hospital charts in German, or fifty-six I should say. That's all I received. So, there was a lot of detective work that's related to them figuring all that out. Now as result of that, I suppose there was a fair degree of positive response because the report was very well accepted and it seemed to eliminate a potential labeling problem about the drug. As a result of that, Hoechst asked me to do several other pieces of work. Then other companies asked me to do several pieces of work. That was definitely the founding event of that consulting in the pharmaceutical sector. No question about it.