Fighting to preserve her husband's legacy

This week I spoke with Huntington Beach resident Elizabeth Gilbert, who continues to seek justice on several fronts for her late husband, Newport Beach urologist Ron Gilbert, after his tragic murder in 2013.

Gilbert's husband was shot to death in January 2013 as he entered his exam room of his medical practice by Hoag Hospital. He was allegedly killed by a first-time patient, Stanwood Elkus, 75, of Lake Elsinore.

Elkus was arrested, pleaded not guilty and remains in jail awaiting trial.

The case has had many delays, and Gilbert says on March 10 there will be a continuation hearing.

In addition to seeking justice, Gilbert is now fighting for her husband's legacy, the company he started and a product he developed, which she alleges in court papers has been stolen.

Before his death, Gilbert developed a premature ejaculation drug, Promescent, an FDA-monograph-compliant lidocaine spray available over-the-counter and marketed through his company, Absorption Pharmaceuticals.

On Feb 21, Gilbert's widow and Absorption's CEO Jeff Abraham, filed suit in a Nevada federal District Court against Reckitt Benckiser, seeking more than $150 million in damages and demanding the corporate giant stop selling Duration, which the complaint alleges is too similar to the formula in Promescent.

"When I lost Ron four years ago, I knew that his legacy, in addition to our beautiful sons, was the remarkable product he created to help couples who struggled with intimacy," Gilbert says.

She says her husband's life's work was "literally stolen out from under us."

I've written about Abraham and Absorption Pharmaceuticals before.

In 2013 Abraham relocated from Huntington Beach to Las Vegas, because O.C. held too many memories of his friend's senseless murder.

Since then we've become friends, and he's repeatedly told me his goal has been to grow the company, eventually selling it and ensuring the Gilbert family's financial future as his business partner intended.

When Reckitt Benckiser approached Abraham interested in buying Promescent in 2014, he thought he'd finally achieved that.

"We already had an exciting offer on the table valued at approximately $150 million for our business, but Reckitt Benckiser asked us to hold off because of its stated desire to acquire Promescent," said Abraham.

What is Reckitt Benckiser?

The company's roots date to 1823.

Headquartered in Slough, England, Reckitt Benckiser has operations throughout Europe, North America, South America, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, the Middle East and Africa.

Key brands include Durex, Gaviscon, Mucinex, Scholl, French's, Lysol, K-Y, Airborne,, Clearasil, Air Wick, Calgon, Vanish and Woolite, as well as over-the-counter pharmaceuticals and products for hair removal, denture cleaning and pest control.

On Forbes' list of the "World's Most Innovative Companies," Reckitt Benckiser lists at No. 51, with market capitalization of $68 billion, 34,700 employees and $13.56 billion in estimated sales.

It was Reckitt Benckiser's office based in Parsippany, N.J., that first contacted Abraham.

"At Reckitt Benckiser's request, we shared our proprietary sales, marketing and technical data as part of due-diligenceduring acquisition negotiations," he says.

In the complaint, Gilbert and Abraham claim Reckitt Benckiser never intended to buy their company, but instead "intended to steal our proprietary information so they could launch a competing product using our marketing strategy and other trade secrets."

The complaint also claims Reckitt Benckiser tried to "destroy Promescent as a competitor by having our listing on Amazon.com hidden from the general public and stealing shelf space at key retailers."

I reached out to Reckitt Benckiser for comment on the pending lawsuit and allegations. Lynn Kenney, North American communications director, called, saying due to the ongoing litigation she couldn't comment here, but at least I got a call back.

I'd never heard of Reckitt Benckiser, but was surprised at how many of their products are in my home.

I dug a little deeper and discovered Gilbert's not the only one questioning Reckitt Benckiser's business practices.

In October 2016 Colorado's State Atty. Gen. Cynthia Coffman and 35 other state attorneys general, including the one from California, filed an antitrust lawsuit against Reckitt Benckiser, the makers of Suboxone, a prescription drug used to treat opioid addiction, "over allegations that the companies engaged in a scheme to block generic competitors and cause purchasers to pay artificially high prices," states the Colorado Attorney General's website.

"Attorneys general allege that consumers and purchasers have paid artificially high monopoly prices since late 2009, when generic alternatives of Suboxone might otherwise have become available," according to the site. "During that time, annual sales of Suboxone topped $1 billion."

Gilbert and Abraham tell me they've entered into a legal battle of "David vs. Goliath" proportions, but are committed "to preserving Ron's legacy."

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at bvontv1@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2017, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
68°