The U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal by former InterMune Inc. Chief Executive Officer W. Scott Harkonen, leaving intact his conviction for issuing a fraudulent press release touting a drug’s success against a fatal lung disease.
The 2002 press release said a clinical study showed Actimmune was effective in treating idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Prosecutors said that release misrepresented the study, and a jury convicted Harkonen of fraud in 2009. He was sentenced to six months of home confinement and fined $20,000.
The Supreme Court today, without comment, refused to hear Harkonen’s contentions that the press release reflected a genuine scientific debate about the study and that the conviction violated his free-speech rights. A drug-industry trade group supported the appeal.
The press release said Actimmune reduced deaths by 70 percent in patients with mild to moderate forms of the lung disease. InterMune, which sold rights to Actimmune last year, has never retracted the release, the government said in court papers.
At the time of the release, Actimmune was approved to treat two rare pediatric diseases, not the lung condition.
In 2006 InterMune agreed to pay $36.9 million to settle U.S. allegations that the company marketed Actimmune for unapproved uses and was responsible for the submission of false reimbursement claims to government health programs. The company is based in Brisbane, California.
The case is Harkonen v. United States, 13-180.