Marketing of Genotropin May Still be of Interest to Authorities

by Jim Edwards
Brandweek December 12, 2005



The reason became evident after it was revealed that Rost had filed a whistleblower suit against Pfizer in 2003, alleging illegal sales of human growth hormone had gone unreported to authorities. Pfizer had refrained from firing Rost when the U.S. Department of Justice was investigating the company since firing a whistleblower tends to make that person’s employer look guilty. But once the DOJ backed off and distanced itself from Rost’s civil suit, Pfizer took the opportunity to oust Rost.But as the dust settles on Rost’s old desk at Pfizer, it appears that the world’s largest drug marketer’s troubles with the former growth hormone marketing chief could be far from over.With his court papers now unsealed, Rost claimed last week that he has twice testified to a federal grand jury about illegal marketing of Genotropin, the growth hormone that Pfizer obtained in its Pharmacia acquisition of 2003. Rost said he may have to testify a third time. He also told Brandweek that he was twice interrogated by the FBI about off-label Genotropin sales.Federal law singles out off-label growth hormone marketing as a criminal act punishable by five years in prison. Growth hormone drugs are approved only for a narrow set of conditions, such as deficient growth in children. But there is a huge black market in anti-aging and “miracle rejuvenation” treatments involving growth hormone, largely on the Internet.

In sum, the civil side of the case may be the least of Pfizer’s Rost-inspired worries if prosecutors are moving forward with a criminal investigation. Legal experts say that simply because the feds stepped back from pursuing a civil suit does not mean that the criminal probe will falter.

“A perfectly good case can be declined and is declined all the time, sometimes because the government does not have enough time to investigate,” said Kenneth Nolan of the Nolan Firm in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., a specialist in federal whistleblower cases.

The judge in the civil case ordered that copies of all Pfizer’s civil litigation in the matter be given to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston so that it can be kept abreast of developments in the case,

Aside from Rost’s claim, three other developments indicate that Pfizer may be a focus of negative attention:

  • On Oct. 17 the Swiss firm Serono paid $704 million in fines to resolve its civil and criminal liabilities in its marketing of Serostim, an anti-AIDS wasting drug. Serostim is, essentially, growth hormone. That case was brought by the same U.S. Attorney’s Office currently receiving papers in the Pfizer case.
  • On Oct. 26, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study which concluded that most growth hormone use in the U.S. is illegal. “Despite the fact that the vast majority of HGH prescriptions should be for children, 74% of HGH prescriptions in 2004 were for people 20 and older, and 44% were for people 40 to 59. Sales of HGH in 2004 totaled $622 million (almost 213,000 prescriptions),” said a statement from the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health, which authored the article in part.
  • And in 1999, Genentech was fined $50 million for illegal marketing of Protropin, its growth hormone brand. In that case, Genentech had encouraged the use of its product in children who were somewhat short, but not actually suffering from deficient growth.

Prosecutors declined to comment last week, as did Pfizer.

When Pfizer fired its vp-marketing for endocrinology products earlier this month, it earned some long-delayed good publicity for the move.The exec, Peter Rost, had publicly criticized Pfizer’s opposition to cheap drug imports from Canada for more than a year, while Pfizer kept mysteriously silent.

REAL PEOPLE making real change Meet Some of our Heroes

Kathleen Hawkins

Dignity Health
$37 million

Kathleen Hawkins, RN MSN, had been employed by Defendant, Catholic Healthcare West (CHW) for approximately 6 years when she decided she had had enough of trying to change the hospital system from within.

CHW, a California not-for-profit corporation that operated hospitals in California, Arizona, and Nevada, was at the time the eighth largest hospital system in the nation and the largest not-for-profit hospital provider in California.

CLICK FOR MORE

Joe Strom

Johnson & Johnson
$184 Million

Joe Strom contacted us in 2005. We were very grateful that he did. We immediately formed an all-star legal team and a process to stop a very harmful pharmaceutical marketing strategy. It was this process we set into motion that ultimately returned hundreds of millions of dollars to the U.S. Treasury, and a portion of that, very well-deserved, into Joe’s bank account.

Joe told us a very troubling story about the off-label promotion of a pharmaceutical drug for patients who already suffered from chronic heart failure.

CLICK FOR MORE

Bruce A. Moilan Sr.

$27 Million

Bruce Moilan was a seasoned hospital systems expert by the time he contacted our Firm. At the time he decided to file his qui tam lawsuit, he was employed by South Texas Health System as a System Director for Materials Management. In this position, he oversaw $24 million in annual purchases of supplies and equipment and helped determine budget, reduction and cost analysis throughout the contract bidding and negotiations process. His job was to insure proper implementation for purchasing, receiving and management of inventory, for McAllen Hospitals, L.P.

CLICK FOR MORE

Description
Description
Description

“I collaborated with Nolan, Auerbach and White on a broad variety of cases where whistleblowers stepped forward to disclose tactics employed by large companies to influence physicians' medical decision-making in patient care. They provide ample resources to not only optimize their client cases, but in doing so consistently leverage best medical evidence to further patient safety and resource utilization.”

— Fred Polsky M.D., Former Medical Director, CMS Zone 7 Integrity Contractor

Any Questions?

Am I potential whistleblower that matches up well with our firm?

We only want to represent amazing people.

How much will I make?

We cannot guarantee anything, but we will deliver on this promise: we will give you feedback and a prognosis within 48 hours of your submission of all details to us. We are the first healthcare fraud qui tam law firm, and have been doing only healthcare fraud whistleblower lawsuits for decades-so you can expect as accurate a picture as is possible.

Are my communications with you confidential?

They are 100% confidential. If we do not take your case, your information becomes inaccessible. We have no interest in it. Besides, it is protected by the attorney-client privilege under our lawyer regulations, and we would lose our license if we were to disclose one iota of information about you or your potential case.

    Contact Us

    Contact Us

    The more detailed the response, the more likely it is that we will be able to evaluate and determine if your potential False Claims Act case falls within our case requirements. IF IT DOES, WE WILL RESPOND TO YOU WITHIN 24 HOURS. (Names of potential defendants are not necessary at this point, should you feel more comfortable omitting them.) By law, all communications to us are 100% confidential.

    No. of Employees at the Company?
    Please read the following statement and then click "Send Form":

    Any response to your e-mail will be solely to communicate about our possible representation of you under the qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act. All e-mails submitted to us, whether we take your case or not, are 100% confidential. If we do not respond to your e-mail, then you have communicated information which we cannot address because it appears to fall outside of the False Claims Act or our case requirements.