Astellas joins crowd of pharmas under investigation for copay charity donations

Astellas this week became the latest drugmaker to disclose it's facing federal scrutiny for charity contributions.

Astellas has joined the biopharma who's who of companies to disclose federal scrutiny for donations to charities that help patients cover drug costs. In a legal filing, the drugmaker disclosed a federal subpoena for information about its contributions.

The subpoena is part of a joint criminal and civil investigation of the Japan-based company, its officers and employees, Reuters reports.

The Department of Justice issued the subpoena as part of its industrywide probe into pharma's contributions to the copay assistance charities, the company reported. Astellas isn't alone, of course, as leading drugmakers including Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Biogen and others have acknowledged they're under investigation for their own contributions. 

Japan's Astellas says its payments to charitable organizations were "lawful and appropriate … for the purpose of contributing to the pharmaceutical safety net for financially needy patients." A spokesperson said the drugmaker is cooperating with the probe, according to Reuters. 

Astellas disclosed the subpoena in a lawsuit against two insurance companies in a battle over legal costs. 

Over the last year, a growing number of drugmakers have acknowledged they're under investigation for charity contributions. Pharmaceutical companies can contribute to patient assistance charities on the condition that the money isn't tied to support for specific drugs, and authorities are seeking to determine whether that's actually the case.

United Therapeutics has set aside $210 million for a potential settlement, and Aegerion already inked a $35 million deal with the feds to settle charges in part relating to charity donations.

Separate from the federal probe, Celgene also faces a whistleblower suit claiming the company worked to “game the system” with contributions to steer charities toward its drugs. The company denied the charge.