AstraZeneca terminates oncology sales manager over newsletter comments

AstraZeneca has fired a regional oncology sales director after his advice to reps to “grab a handful” of money when calling on cancer doctors made its way to the blogosphere. Regional sales director Michael Zubillaga, 50, was terminated Friday over comments initially made for the Oncology Newsletter, an internal AstraZeneca publication produced by and for employees at the company’s office in Wayne, PA. In a Q&A section of the newsletter’s winter edition, Zubillaga is quoted stating three sales goals for calling on cancer doctors’ offices for 2007. In goal No. 3 of his advice, Zubillaga said: “I see it like this: There is a big bucket of money sitting in every office. Every time you go in you reach your hand in the bucket and grab a handful. The more times you are in, the more money goes in your pocket. Every time you make a call, you are looking to make more money.” The newsletter was posted on pharmaceutical industry blogs hosted by Peter Rost and Ed Silverman. AstraZeneca said in a statement it, “strongly repudiates the negative comments made in this newsletter. This newsletter was produced outside of AstraZeneca’s required approval and review processes.” An AstraZeneca spokeswoman later told The Philadelphia Inquirer that Zubillaga was fired not for improper conduct, but for his comments, which violated the company’s “robust compliance program that calls for responsible sales and marketing practices and conduct.” Silverman wrote on his blog,, that Zubillaga’s comments, while crass, might motivate some members of the sales force. “Of course, many docs know that’s what the sales teams think of them,” Silverman wrote. “That’s why some docs hold out for expensive meals, nice trips and good seats to good games, and why others won’t let the rep past reception.” Mike Luby, CEO of prescribing behavior tracking firm TargetRx, said Zubillaga could have accomplished his point by talking about the number of untreated patients, instead of using the “buckets of money” example. “I think what (Zubillaga) did was really stupid and in very bad taste,” Luby told MM&M. “The comments and the sentiment behind his comments are so inconsistent with what you hear from AstraZeneca, as well as the industry in general, that I was glad they moved swiftly and aggressively to send a loud message.”