Sunday, May 02, 2010

Sunday Settlement and Guilty Plea Roundup

Here we go again. 

AstraZeneca / Seroquel

We have posted frequently about allegations of devious marketing techniques used by AstraZeneca to promote its blockbuster atypical anti-psychotic drug Seroquel (quetiapine.)  See our posts here, here, here, here, and here.  Now, as reported by the New York Times, it is time for AZ to settle with the US government.
AstraZeneca has completed a deal to pay $520 million to settle federal investigations into marketing practices for its blockbuster schizophrenia drug, Seroquel, the Attorney General, Eric Holder, said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.

'AstraZeneca paid kickbacks to doctors as part of an illegal scheme to market drugs for unapproved uses,' Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of health and human services, said at the event in Washington. She said the company promoted drugs for unapproved uses by children, the elderly, veterans and prisoners.

AstraZeneca agreed to sign a corporate integrity agreement with the federal government over its marketing of Seroquel for unapproved uses, but will not face criminal charges, company and federal officials said.

The company, based in London, has been accused of misleading doctors and patients by playing up favorable research and not adequately disclosing studies that show Seroquel increases the risk of diabetes.

Of course, an AZ spokesperson had a different take on it.
Glenn Engelmann, AstraZeneca’s U.S. general counsel, released a statement saying the company denies the allegations but settled the investigation with the payment.

'It is in the best interest of AstraZeneca to resolve these matters and to move forward with our business of discovering and developing important, life-changing medicines — while avoiding the delay, uncertainty, and expense of protracted litigation,' Mr. Engelmann said.

Johnson and Johnson / Topamax

On the other hand, the issue of how Johnson and Johnson marketed Topamax (topiramate), a drug approved for treating seizures, is a new one for Health Care Renewal.  Here is the story, via Bloomberg.
Two units of Johnson & Johnson will pay more than $81 million to resolve criminal and civil claims over illegal promotion of the epilepsy drug Topamax, the U.S. Justice Department said.

Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical LLC agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor and pay a $6.14 million criminal fine for misbranding the drug, the government said. Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals also will pay $75.37 million to resolve civil allegations that it illegally marketed Topamax and caused false claims to be submitted to government health programs.

While the Food and Drug Administration approved Topamax for the treatment of partial onset seizures, Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical promoted the drug for unapproved psychiatric uses, the government said. The company hired physicians through its 'Doctor-for-a-Day' program to join sales representatives in visiting doctors and to speak to colleagues about unapproved uses and doses, according to the government.

In this case, the company admitted wrong-doing as part of the specific plea agreement.
Under the plea agreement, Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical will admit that from 2001 to 2003 it promoted Topamax 'for certain uses not approved' by the FDA, according to a statement by Ortho-McNeil-Janssen.

The company 'voluntarily discontinued the program at issue before receiving the government’s first subpoena in the investigation,' according to the statement.

Ortho-McNeil-Janssen also will sign a five-year corporate integrity agreement with the U.S. Health and Human Services Department.


Once more, with feeling ....  We have discussed a series of legal settlements and criminal convictions and guilty pleas resolving cases of alleged wrong-doing by health care organizations. Almost none included any penalties for people who authorized, directed or implemented the bad behavior. None of the financial penalties were so big as to be more than another cost of doing business for the organizations involved. Corporate entities, but very rarely people have pleaded guilty or been convicted (almost always of misdemeanors), Some of the cases included gimmicks, like a subsidiary constructed only to plead guilty, that otherwise seemed to lessen accountability.

If we truly want health care that is accessible, of high quality, at a fair price, and more importantly, if we want health care that is honest and focused on patients, we need to provide health care leaders with clear, rational incentives in these directions, and make them fully accountable for their actions, and the courses of their organizations under their leadership.

ADDENDUM (2 May,2010) - See also comments on the Hooked: Ethics, Medicine, and Pharma blog by Dr Howard Brody on the AZ settlement.

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