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Swiss drug maker Novartis has said it is looking into allegations that its eye care unit, Alcon, bribed more than 200 hospital doctors in China in a bid to promote its lens implants.

This week a Chinese newspaper alleged the eye unit paid doctors for so-called ‘research fees’ via a third-party for fake clinical trials that never happened.

In a statement, Novartis said: "Alcon does not tolerate activities that are not in compliance with the laws and regulations in the markets where we operate.

"When any inappropriate activities are identified, we take swift remedial action."

This is not the first allegation made against Novartis in recent months.

In August, the 21st Century Business Herald, which also carried out this recent report, alleged the company bribed doctors to increase drug sales.

However, Novartis is not the first drug maker to be embroiled in allegations of bribery by the paper. Last month, it also published a report carrying details of bribery claims against US drug maker Eli Lilly.

It featured a former employee of the company who said Eli Lilly CYN30m ($4.9m) in bribes to doctors to prescribe its drugs.

Eli Lilly said last year it had launched an internal investigation in relation to similar allegations by a former manager, but had not been able to verify the allegations. The company said it is continuing the probe.

Other pharmaceutical companies caught up in bribery allegation in China include British drug firm GlaxoSmithKline, which is accused of funnelling up to £320m through travel agencies to facilitate bribes to doctors and officials. The company said it is fully cooperating with authorities.

Caption: Novartis’s headquarters in Basel, Switzerland. Photo: courtesy of CC BY 2.0.