Breaking News

S&P 500 Caps Biggest Rally in a Year, Up 1.9% to 1,941
Tweet TWEET

J&J Risperdal Letter Violated Consumer Law, Jury Finds

(Corrects amount of potential penalties in second paragraph of story published March 22.)

A Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) unit violated consumer-protection laws by sending South Carolina doctors a misleading letter about the safety and effectiveness of the antipsychotic drug Risperdal, a jury concluded.

Jurors in state court in Spartanburg, South Carolina, deliberated more than six hours before finding today that J&J’s Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals unit engaged in “unfair and deceptive acts” by sending a 2003 letter touting Risperdal as better and safer than competing drugs to more than 7,000 doctors across the state. A judge will decide later whether the drugmaker should pay $36 million in penalties over the mailings.

“The verdict they handed down is just and speaks the truth,” John White, a Spartanburg-based lawyer representing the state, said in an interview. Jurors also found that J&J warning label information on Risperdal was deceptive.

The state’s case centered on drug-safety claims that New Brunswick, New Jersey-based J&J and Janssen made in November 2003 correspondence to about 700,000 doctors across the U.S., including 7,200 in South Carolina.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration responded with a warning letter saying J&J made false and misleading claims that minimized the potentially fatal risks of diabetes and overstated the drug’s superiority to competitors’ products.

‘Acted Responsibly’

“We are disappointed,” Greg Panico, a J&J spokesman, said in a statement. “Janssen acted responsibly and believes it did not violate” South Carolina law, he said.

South Carolina officials argued in the case that J&J sent the letter to protect billions of dollars in sales of the antipsychotic drug.

Risperdal’s global sales peaked at $4.5 billion in 2007 and declined after the company lost patent protection. Risperdal generated $3.4 billion in sales in 2008, or 5.4 percent of J&J’s total sales, according to company filings. Sales of the drug fell to $527 million last year, J&J said in a January earnings report.

Risperdal Consta, the long-acting version of the antipsychotic drug, generated $1.5 billion in sales last year for J&J.

The case is the third of about 10 state lawsuits to be considered by jurors over J&J’s Risperdal marketing campaigns. In June, J&J won dismissal of Pennsylvania’s suit alleging the company hid the drug’s diabetes risk and tricked regulators into paying millions more than they should have for the medicine.

Louisiana Verdict

A Louisiana jury ordered the drugmaker in October to pay $257.7 million in damages to that state for making misleading claims about Risperdal’s safety. A judge later added $73 million in legal fees to the award.

A West Virginia judge in a 2009 non-jury trial awarded $3.95 million, finding the company misled doctors about the risks and benefits of Risperdal. The state dropped its Risperdal claim after J&J won an appeal, company officials said in February.

Under South Carolina’s unfair trade practices law, Janssen can be fined as much as $5,000 for each Risperdal letter sent to South Carolina doctors. Judge Roger Couch will decide the financial-penalty issue after an April 18th hearing.

“After the judge makes a determination as to damages, we will consider our options,” Panico said in his statement.

The case is State of South Carolina v. Janssen Pharmaceuticals, 2007-CP-4201438, Circuit Court for Spartanburg County, South Carolina (Spartanburg).

To contact the reporters on this story: Jef Feeley in Wilmington, Delaware, at jfeeley@bloomberg.net; Gary Henderson in Spartanburg, South Carolina at wgaryh@gmail.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: David E. Rovella at drovella@bloomberg.net.

Press spacebar to pause and continue. Press esc to stop.

Bloomberg reserves the right to remove comments but is under no obligation to do so, or to explain individual moderation decisions.

Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.