Feds ask to join Pfizer whistleblower suit

The Department of Justice wants to take the reins in a whistleblower suit claiming Wyeth mismarketed its transplant drug Rapamune. The feds asked a federal judge in Philadelphia to allow them to take over the case, originally filed by two former sales reps assigned to the drug. The suit alleges that Wyeth touted Rapamune for off-label uses and improperly targeted black patients.

The Justice Department contends that it has "good cause to intervene"--in other words, government attorneys think the whistleblowers have a decent case. In addition to the off-label marketing allegations, the suit accuses Wyeth of violating kickback laws by giving doctors cash and other incentives to persuade them to prescribe Rapamune. "It's always good to have the government on your side," plaintiff's attorney Reuben Guttman told the New York Times.

Pfizer, which bought Wyeth last year, has already disclosed a government probe of Rapamune marketing. Now, it says it's cooperating with the feds, adding that it's intent on marketing Rapamune according to the drug's label. The company also says that Rapamune "was never contraindicated for African-American patients or other high-risk populations," the Wall Street Journal reports.

Pfizer has had its share of trouble with off-label marketing; it has agreed to pay $2.3 billion in civil and criminal penalties to settle claims of mismarketing the painkiller Bextra and several other drugs. Pfizer's not alone in that; several drugmakers have made off-label settlements in recent months. But one whistleblower expert tells the NYT that the government might be particularly eager to go after Pfizer again. "The government's not happy with Pfizer," Patrick Burns of Taxpayers Against Fraud told the paper. "These are repeat offenders."

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