American pharmaceutical firm Pfizer – the largest medicine maker in the world in terms of sales – has been ordered to pay a record $2.3bn (£1.3bn) settlement over fraud relating to the marketing of four of its drugs.
The company was found guilty of using improper sales tactics in the marketing of its Bextra, Geodon, Zyvox and Lyrica products. It was found to have promoted “off-label” uses for the drugs – the practice of encouraging use of medicine for ailments other than those approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. “Off-labelling” means medicines are prescribed without properly being tested in that particular context and the side-effects of their use for such disorders is often unclear.
Pfizer, it was claimed, endowed lavish corporate hospitality upon doctors and health care officials in order to peddle its wares for extended purposes.
The allegations came to light through 11 whistleblowers, all thought to be former employees, who reported their concerns over the company’s actions to the authorities. The 11 revealed they had been pressured by Pfizer to mis-sell the drugs.
The fine comprises a $1.3bn criminal charge – branded the biggest of its kind in history – and $1bn civil fees. Of the latter, over $100m is to be disseminated across the whistleblowers themselves, including $50m for one former employee.
The Assistant Attorney- General in the case, Tony West, said: “This civil settlement and plea agreement by Pfizer represents yet another example of what penalties will be faced when a pharmaceutical company puts profits ahead of patient welfare.”
Pfizer maintained that it has vowed to change its ways. “Corporate integrity is an absolute priority for Pfizer and we will continue to take appropriate actions to further enhance our compliance practices and strengthen public trust in our company,” said senior vice president Amy Schulman.