Pfizer Inc., the world’s largest drugmaker, was ordered to pay a total of $142.1 million in damages for violating U.S. racketeering laws in the marketing of its epilepsy drug Neurontin.
U.S. District Judge Patti Saris in Boston yesterday upheld a jury’s finding that Kaiser Foundation Health Plan Inc. and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals deserved the award over the companies’ claims that Pfizer illegally promoted Neurontin for unapproved uses. Saris tripled the jury’s award of $47.3 million under a provision of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act of 1970.
“The damages awarded to the plaintiffs by the jury under RICO are trebled,” the judge said in her one-page order. Saris also denied Kaiser’s request for an estimated $76 million in interest on the award.
Kaiser officials alleged they were duped into believing that migraines and bipolar disorder could be treated effectively with Neurontin, approved in 1993 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for epilepsy.
Chris Loder, a Pfizer spokesman, said the company was pleased with Saris’ decision to deny Kaiser’s bid for pre-judgment interest on the award. “As we maintained all along, Pfizer has strong defenses in this case and intends to appeal,” he said.
Oakland, California-based Kaiser, the first insurer to bring a Neurontin case against Pfizer to trial, claimed it was forced to pay $90 million more than it should have for the drug.
New York-based Pfizer currently faces more than 300 suits accusing it of illegally promoting Neurontin or hiding its health risks. Lawyers for ex-Neurontin users contend the drugmaker knew the medicine posed a suicide risk and failed to disclose it to patients and doctors.
The company also has settled at least two suits alleging the drug played a role in users’ suicides, paying almost $400,000 in one of the accords, people familiar with the deals said last year.
Warner-Lambert Co. developed and marketed Neurontin for several years before Pfizer acquired the drugmaker in 2000. Four years later, Warner-Lambert pleaded guilty and agreed to pay $430 million to resolve off-label marketing allegations by the U.S. Justice Department.
Saris, who is overseeing Neurontin cases from across the U.S. consolidated in federal court in Boston, recently dismissed more than 40 suits and a state-court judge in Missouri refused in August to all former Neurontin users to combine claims into a class-action case.
The case is In re Neurontin Marketing, Sales Practices and Products Liability Litigation, MDL 1629, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts (Boston).