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U.S. Backs Pfizer Whistle-Blower

May 29, 2003|From Associated Press

The U.S. government is supporting a whistle-blower who sued Pfizer Inc. and its subsidiary Parke-Davis, saying evidence backs his claim that the drug maker illegally marketed the epilepsy drug Neurontin and offered lavish kickbacks to doctors.

U.S. Atty. Michael Sullivan has filed a "statement of interest" in David Franklin's civil lawsuit in federal court, arguing against the pharmaceutical company's motion to have the lawsuit thrown out.

"The evidence in this case supports a finding that Defendants ... engaged in a fraudulent scheme, involving many false statements to doctors and the United States Food and Drug Administration advanced by payment of illegal kickbacks," Sullivan wrote.

Messages left for Pfizer spokesmen were not returned.

Pfizer -- which merged with Warner-Lambert and its Parke-Davis division three years ago -- has said the lawsuit relates to activities that took place before the acquisition and that its employees do not promote drugs for non-approved uses.

The case concerns "off-label" use, or prescribing drugs for ailments other than those approved by the FDA, of Neurontin.

Federal law allows doctors to prescribe drugs in any way they believe will best help patients, but forbids companies from promoting drugs for conditions that are not approved by the FDA.

Franklin, who worked for Warner-Lambert, claims in his lawsuit filed in 1996 that the company gave financial incentives to hundreds of doctors to prescribe Neurontin for non-approved uses.

Internal company memos outline plans in journals and at medical conferences to promote the drug for bipolar disorder, social phobias, panic disorder and neuropathic pain rather than seeking FDA approval.

In Friday's filing, Sullivan said Franklin had documented the firm's kickback schemes for physicians who prescribe Neurontin for off-label uses, such as a 1996 meeting in Atlanta where doctors were given tickets to the Olympics and use of a spa.

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