Prosecutors rope Pfizer into fast-growing copay assistance probe

Add Pfizer to the list of the companies facing a governmental investigation about its ties to copay assistance programs.

After first focusing on biotech and specialty pharma, the feds have made their way to Big Pharma, with the New York drug giant joining a group that includes Gilead Sciences, Biogen, Valeant Pharmaceuticals and others.

In its 10-K, Pfizer disclosed two subpoenas from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Massachusetts, issued in December 2015 and July 2016. The subpoenas seek information about its ties with the Patient Access Network Foundation and other nonprofits that help Medicare patients pay for their drugs. The drugmaker has been “providing information to the government,” it says.

A Pfizer spokesperson told FiercePharma the company supports “initiatives, including co-pay foundations, to help patients most in need gain access to medicines.” Pfizer is "among a number of companies" to receive subpoenas on the matter.

"We strive to follow government guidelines associated with any contributions we make,” the spokesperson said.

According to its website, the PAN Foundation helps “underinsured people with life-threatening, chronic and rare diseases get the medications and treatment they need by paying for their out-of-pocket costs and advocating for improved access and affordability.”

Such patient assistance programs have come under fire lately, with critics arguing pharma companies use them to boost sales. Governmental regulations prohibit drugmakers from linking their charitable contributions to their own meds, and drug companies aren't allowed to offer direct co-pay assistance to patients covered by Medicare or Medicaid.

Before Pfizer, Regeneron was the latest to disclose a subpoena in the government’s growing probe.

Related: Regeneron gets wrapped up in federal patient assistance investigation

Other companies to disclose similar subpoenas include Celgene, Jazz Pharmaceuticals and Horizon Pharma.

Aside from the governmental investigation, 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.