You began working on the book in 2008 and worked on it for 10
years almost uninterrupted - traveling to India, China, Ghana,
England, Ireland, around the U.S. and Mexico to report.
How did you get interested in that topic specifically?
So it was 2008 and I got a phone call from a guy named Joe
Graedon, who is a host of an NPR program called
He said that he
was getting flooded with complaints from listeners who were
having trouble with their generic drugs. They weren't working
properly and [the patients] had side effects and he believed
their complaints were substantial.
I kept my notes
from this conversation the whole time because I felt that was
He brought those
the FDA [United States Food and
Drug Administration] and officials there told him that they were
probably psychosomatic reactions, that you could switch
to a different drug, and you have a psychosomatic reaction
that's in your head.
And he didn't
And he said to
wrong with the drugs?"
I was like,
is wrong with the drugs?"
And I set out to
answer that question, which was so much more complicated than I
could have ever dreamed up. The answer is really all over the
world. So what I ended up embarking on was a global quest.
It was just a
giant global connect the dots effort basically.
Your book focuses on the fraud perpetrated by the executives of
Ranbaxy, the Indian drug company that makes generic Lipitor, a
cholesterol treatment used by millions of patients in the U.S.
In 2013 you wrote a
magazine article for Fortune covering part of the case. Why
did you decide to focus on the Indian company Ranbaxy?
understood that there was potential fraud in the quality of the
data that generic companies were submitting to regulators, the
Ranbaxy story was the obvious hook because Ranbaxy was being
investigated by the FDA for data falsification.
There was a
whistleblower inside of Ranbaxy, and his story forms the core of
[my book] "Bottle of Lies."
It's an amazing
and what he went through and his effort to expose wrongdoing of
Ranbaxy was incredibly dramatic.
And it took me
years to piece it together, actually, from a cover up that the
board of directors launched to his sort of silent suffering and
[His being] the biggest secret informant for the
government was really very dramatic.
So that and the
fraud itself was incredible at Ranbaxy, I mean just beyond the
stuff of nightmares. That is why I focused on that.
In 2019, Ranbaxy's former executives, the billionaire brothers
Malvinder and Shivinder Singh were
found guilty of contempt of court for violating the terms of
their arbitration case with Japanese company Daiichi Sankyo.
How did you react to the news?
These were men
who had pulled off almost the swindle of a lifetime, because
they suppressed the evidence of fraud at Ranbaxy and sold it to
the Japanese [company] Daiichi Sankyo for $2 billion in shares.
And then once
Daiichi Sankyo took over ownership of the company, they
discovered, lo and behold, that they had purchased this company
that was saturated with fraud, and [the Singhs] had suppressed
the truth about what happened inside the company.
Sankyo began this sort of global effort for justice for its
shareholders. And that led to a series of consequences in which Malvinder and his brother were marched often in handcuffs.
So it was
incredibly, incredibly dramatic. And, I must say, pretty
Talking about the whistleblower in your book, I thought his life
and struggle was so sad.
But it kind of tells the reality of whistleblowing, because a
lot of these people really sacrifice their whole life to tell
Why did you decide to tell the story of his struggle and make
him a central character?
His story, to
me, was clearly the sort of necessary narrative thread by which
to help the reader through what is very complicated terrain [of]
good manufacturing practices, data manipulation, all this kind
of stuff that is super complicated and very detailed and hard to
But, here was a
human story that I could really map it on to. It was remarkable.
And towards the end of the book, I was reporting the story in
And there [you
have] Dinesh Thakur, who ended up making $48 million as a
whistleblower, he could have just bought a small Caribbean
island and set for it, and gone into hiding.
he ended up suing India...!
Talk about a
fruitless quest to try to fight for better regulation and better
a lot on whistleblowers, and having worked with many of them
through my articles, [I have come to realize that] they're a
very distinct, distinct breed. Most of us can go to sleep at
night, even if we know there's a great injustice.
whistleblowers can't, they can't sleep at night.
And I think, as
a journalist, that the people who want to do investigative
journalism and want to write about this stuff and expose this
stuff, also can't sleep at night. It can be a very challenging
and difficult collaboration, but you're kind of meant for each
So I think
covering Dinesh's quest made a lot of sense.
What was the most challenging part of all this? Was it dealing
with the people or the FDA, and their bureaucracy?
Dealing with the
FDA wasn't too hard in the sense that I didn't deal with them.
didn't talk to me and [provided] a very minimal input into this
book. I would say that the most challenging part was just
keeping on going until I really felt that I had answered that
There were many,
many times where quitting seemed like the best option.
Chinese government followed me, they hacked my phone.
some alarming circumstances in India.
I felt pretty
out there, by myself doing this reporting.
And if this falls
short of many times, sort of impossible to penetrate an industry
that was headquartered 7,000 miles away from the U.S.
But you get to
this point in any reporting project, where you're like,
gotten this far. So if I stop now, like, what's the point of
And I think
through just sheer stubbornness, you keep going.
When did you decide where to stop? Because you could have kept
to cancel this book, unless we've got a draft."
Deadlines have a
way of forcing you to stop. But I mean, of course, in a way you
never stop. I'm reporting my book now and it was published, over
a year ago.
So you don't
ever really stop the reporting.
You're still working on this?
follow the leads whenever they come in, even if they come in too
On one hand,
yes, but, but right now I am full time reporting on
I'm exploring the federal government's response.
And I've been
doing this for big stories on what happened in the White House
and Jared Kushner and those sorts of things.
You've been an investigative journalist for many years, what
have you learned that you will apply again in the future?
You have to just
talk to more people than anybody else.
a feeling of,
'how am I
going to get new information when X number of journalists
have been on the story?'
When it looks
like all of the sources sort of belong to other people,
'what can I
possibly bring to this?'
And from that
sorrow and despair usually comes some renewed effort.
And then there's
usually this moment, you can almost like, smell new information.
When you hear something that just sounds strange and worthy of
I think every
single story I've done, there's some moment like that, that
launches you into reporting mode.
you have to talk to a lot of people to get to that moment. But
once you have that, once you feel you're in pursuit of new
information, what's really critical is figuring out who has
information whose hands are on this information.
And you have to
sort of visualize and map the information like:
does it flow?
And then once
you do that, you really need to figure out like, who has the
motivation to help you nail this story...