Friday, December 02, 2005

Pfizer Fires Outspoken Executive

Some interesting issues are raised by this story. Whistleblowers in the pharmaceutical industry, beware, may be one of them.

Drug maker Pfizer Inc. fired outspoken executive Peter Rost Thursday, citing the government's decision not to participate in a whistleblower suit he brought against the company.

Rost, vice president of marketing, charged in a 2003 complaint that Pharmacia, a Pfizer subsidiary, marketed the human growth hormone Genotropin for unapproved, or "off-label" uses, and improperly sought reimbursement from federal health plans.

"Peter Rost's employment at Pfizer had been maintained over the past two and half years to avoid any complications in light of the government's review of the claims that he raised," Pfizer spokesman Paul Fitzhenry said.

Rost's position has been in a kind of limbo since he came to Pfizer in that company's 2003 acquisition of Pharmacia. Pfizer says it didn't have the position Rost requested; he claims he didn't rule out accepting another position. He has essentially been working for Pfizer without any executive responsibilities.

"My understanding is that I've been terminated," Rost said Thursday. "I need to check what this all means with my lawyers," before making any decisions, he added.

The government is currently investigating the Genotropin allegations in a separate criminal case. Fitzhenry said the company continues to cooperate with this probe.

On Nov. 10, the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts declined to intervene in the lawsuit and a federal judge later ordered the complaint unsealed. Pfizer filed a motion Thursday to dismiss Rost's complaint altogether.

Rost said Pfizer's motion to dismiss was premature because he hasn't decided on whether to continue with the suit.

In its motion, Pfizer alleges that Rost's complaint was filed after the company had already disclosed Pharmacia's marketing practices for Genotropin. The company said Rost failed to identify any false or fraudulent claims made to a federal health care program involving Genotropin as required under the False Claims Act.

Rost countered that he filed his suit before he received notice from Pfizer that it had reported the matter to the government.

Fitzhenry said that Rost will be offered a severance package similar to those offered to other employees of Pharmacia after its acquisition by Pfizer.

Rost is best known for an appearance on the television news program "60 Minutes" in June, when he criticized the industry's efforts to block drug reimportation into the United States from Canada, where drugs are much cheaper, and called arguments that reimportation is unsafe a scare tactic designed to protect profits.

-- SS

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