Pfizer Inc. agreed to pay $14.5 million to settle a lawsuit brought by two whistle-blowers who claimed the company improperly marketed its bladder-control drug Detrol.
The whistle-blowers, former sales representatives David Wetherholt and Marci Drimer, sued Pfizer in federal court in Boston in 2006, claiming the company cheated Medicaid, the state-administered, federal health-care program for low-income people, by pushing Detrol for a prostate condition. The suit was filed under the False Claims Act on behalf of the U.S. and multiple states.
Pfizer will pay $14.5 million to the U.S. government, 49 states and the District of Columbia, Thomas M. Greene, a lawyer for the whistle-blowers, said today in a statement. The ex-Pfizer employees will receive 27 percent of the federal portion of the recovery, or about $3.3 million, he said.
“The plan to market Detrol off-label to new patient populations was hatched by a marketing team, not by research and development,” Greene said in an interview. “Instead of asking, ‘Who will Detrol help?’ or even, ‘How does Detrol work?’ the question became, ‘Who can we convince to buy Detrol?’”
Pfizer denied any wrongdoing. The New York-based company settled the lawsuit on “favorable terms,” it said today in a statement.
“This settlement allows Pfizer to avoid the cost and distraction of litigation and put this matter behind us,” the company said.
Pfizer, the world’s largest drugmaker, paid $2.3 billion in 2009 to settle U.S. investigations into improper marketing of its Bextra painkiller and other drugs. The Detrol claim was the last of the False Claims Act cases connected to these suits, the company said.
The U.S. declined to intervene, or join, the Detrol lawsuit in 2009. The whistleblowers pursued the claim on their own after that decision, Greene said.
The former Pfizer sales representatives claimed that the company marketed Detrol, approved for treatment of overactive bladder conditions, for an additional, unapproved, use, in violation of federal regulations.
Pfizer encouraged prescriptions for patients who have an impeded flow of urine caused by a condition called benign prostatic hyperplasia, the whistle-blowers claimed.
“Pfizer intentionally embarked on a course of unlawful conduct that it knew would lead to the submission by physicians and pharmacists of thousands of Medicaid claims for Detrol uses that were not covered by Medicaid and for which the drug was ineffective,” the whistle-blowers said in their complaint.
The lawsuit was initially settled in January while the conclusion of the case was delayed as the plaintiffs got agreements from the states, according to court filings.
Wetherholt and Drimer also alleged Pfizer forced them out after they complained about marketing practices. Greene declined to comment on whether their claims of wrongful termination were settled.
Wetherholt and Drimer will also receive an undetermined amount from the $2.62 million portion of the settlement shared by the states, Greene said.
“They will receive a percentage of the state settlements for those states with false claims acts,” he said.
The case is U.S. ex. rel. Wetherholt v. Pfizer Inc., 06-10204, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts (Boston).