The jury in a Boston-based US District court case has found that Pfizer, the world’s largest drug maker, violated federal antiracketeering laws by promoting Neurontin for off-label uses. Neurontin is FDA-approved for the treatment of epilepsy, but the jury found Pfizer guilty of marketing it for migraine headaches and bipolar disorder.
The jury set damages at $47 million. This amount is tripled under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, meaning that Pfizer must pay damages equaling $141 million.
The case was brought by Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals. Kaiser alleged that it overpaid for Neurontin as a result of Pfizer’s illegal marketing tactics.
Physicians are free to prescribe drugs for non-FDA approved uses, but drug makers cannot market their products for such purposes.
Kaiser said in a statement that “that justice has been achieved for our members and the physicians, pharmacists and staff who care for them.”
Pfizer claimed that Neurontin did work in some cases, and that Kaiser still allows its physicians to prescribe the drug off-label. “We are disappointed with the verdict and will pursue… an appeal,” said Pfizer spokesman Christopher Loder.
In an unrelated case in 2004, Pfizer plead guilty to similar charges and agreed to pay $430 million to settle the matter.
Two years ago, unsealed documents from yet another case revealed that Pfizer executives suppressed the results of a 1999 trial showing that Neurontin didn’t work for chronic nerve pain at the same time the company was promoting the drug for that purpose.
Pfizer’s Neurontin marketing campaign transformed the underperforming epilepsy drug into a $2 billion per year blockbuster before generic versions became available in 2004.