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U.S. Seeks Records of 80,000 Novartis `Sham' Events for Doctors

  • Drugmaker says government has `exploded' scope of lawsuit
  • Whistle-blower case claims company wined and dined doctors

The U.S. is asking Novartis AG to provide records of about 80,000 “sham” events in which the government says doctors were wined and dined so they would prescribe the company’s cardiovascular drugs to their patients.

The Swiss drugmaker and the Manhattan U.S. Attorney are engaged in a whistle-blower lawsuit that alleges Novartis provided illegal kickbacks to health-care providers through bogus educational programs at high-end restaurants and sports bars where the drugs were barely discussed.

In a filing Friday, the U.S. said it needs Novartis to provide information to support its allegation that the company defrauded federal health-care programs of hundreds of millions of dollars over a decade by inducing doctors to prescribe its medications through sham speaker events.

“The requested documents go to the core issues in this case: whether educational materials were provided at these events; which doctors actually attended the events; how much money was spent on meals and honoraria; and indeed, most fundamentally, whether the underlying documentation shows that a particular event actually took place,” the government said in its court filing.

‘Exploded’ Case

That filing came in response to a March 22 request by Novartis to the judge, seeking a hearing because the company says the U.S. has “exploded” the size of the case by demanding information about as many as 80,000 promotional events set up by its salespeople.

Representatives of Basel-based Novartis didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail sent Saturday seeking comment on the government’s filing.

Last year Novartis agreed to pay $390 million to settle a lawsuit in which the U.S. government claimed the Swiss company paid kickbacks to pharmacies to boost sales of some of its prescription drugs. The company neither admitted nor denied liability.

The case is U.S. v. Novartis Pharmaceutical Corp., 11-CV-0071, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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