Biogen inks $22M charity kickbacks deal with feds, but argues its conduct was appropriate

Over the last few years, the federal government has inked charity kickback settlements with a who’s who of pharma companies. With a new Department of Justice settlement unveiled Thursday, Biogen is joining the group.

The neurology-focused drugmaker has agreed to pay $22 million to settle allegations its charity contributions were kickbacks aimed at pumping up sales of multiple sclerosis drugs Tysabri and Avonex.  

The feds said Biogen used two charities—the Chronic Disease Fund and The Assistance Fund—as “conduits” to pay Medicare copays for patients on the drugs. For federal healthcare plans, pharmaceutical companies aren’t allowed to help patients with their copay expenses, the Department of Justice points out. Congress created that restriction as a check on drug prices.

The deal “demonstrates the government’s commitment to hold accountable companies that pay kickbacks to undermine important constraints on rising drug costs,” acting assistant attorney Jeffrey Bossert Clark of the DOJ’s Civil Division said in a statement. 

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The feds said Biogen identified certain Avonex and Tysabri patients in its free drug program, and then with vendor Advanced Care Scripts, worked to move patients over to the foundations. The allegations centered on certain quarters in 2011, 2012 and 2013. 

A Biogen spokeswoman said the company "does not agree with the government’s view of the facts and believes that its conduct was appropriate." Further, the company believes "independent charitable assistance programs help patients lead healthier lives."

"This settlement is not an admission of any liability and the resolution reflects Biogen’s desire to put this investigation behind it and to continue its focus on the needs of patients," she added. "Biogen is committed to compliance in all that it does, and to meeting or exceeding legal, regulatory, and industry requirements as well as the expectations of patients and providers."

In addition to the Biogen deal, the Department of Justice inked a $1.4 million settlement with ACS. 

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Biogen is far from alone in striking such a settlement with the feds. Throughout the last few years—starting with a $210 million deal with United Therapeutics in 2017—prosecutors have made charity kickback settlements of various sizes with companies such as Pfizer, Gilead Sciences, Astellas, Amgen and Alexion.