Pfizer fails to block $142M Neurontin award, faces 2 more suits

Pfizer's potential liability on off-label Neurontin use just grew, thanks to a U.S. appeals court in Boston. The panel not only upheld a $142 million verdict in one lawsuit but also reinstated two others that had been tossed out by lower courts--including a class action that could allow hundreds of health plans to pursue claims against the company, Bloomberg reports.

Since its $430 million off-label marketing settlement with the Justice Department in 2004, payers have been trying to recoup their spending on Neurontin prescriptions for unapproved indications. Pfizer ($PFE) has had some success at fighting off those claims.

It wasn't so successful with a case involving Kaiser Foundation Health Plan. The insurer had claimed that Pfizer's fraudulent marketing induced it to overspend on the drug. A jury agreed, finding that Pfizer had pushed Neurontin for unapproved uses such as migraines and bipolar disorder.

That's the $142 million judgment Pfizer appealed--and now has lost. The company says it sees "no basis in fact or law" for the $142 million award in the case, and that it's weighing a further appeal.

The court also resurrected two other Neurontin suits, Reuters reports. Aetna's claims, similar to those lodged by Kaiser, had been dismissed by a lower court judge, but it's now clear to proceed. And a potential class action also has another chance. Pfizer says it's considering its options in both of these cases, too.

Pfizer, which acquired Neurontin along with Warner-Lambert, has reaped a load of sales from the drug. It's now off-patent, but Neurontin was a blockbuster in its time, with $2.3 billion in 2002 sales. And it got that way because of off-label sales. According to court documents, some 94% of that $2.3 billion derived from off-label uses.

So, payers want their money back. They sued Pfizer on racketeering grounds, but a district judge deemed their evidence insufficient and denied their request for class-action status. The appeals court revived those racketeering claims and asked the judge to reconsider the class-action certification, Bloomberg reports.

- read the Bloomberg story
- get more from Reuters