Gov't probes laundry list of drugmakers

Even after a raft of record-breaking government settlements, there's no shortage of investigations targeting drugmakers. So, for pharma-watchers' convenience, the Financial Times has rounded up the companies and probes most likely to make news in the near term. The names are familiar, and so are the charges. But penalties? Most of those remain a mystery, at least until prosecutors speak.

The probes du jour include potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a.k.a., the U.S. anti-bribery statute. Pharma companies are particularly vulnerable to this sort of probe, because the FCPA criminalizes payments to government officials--and in countries with nationalized health systems, a doctor can qualify. But other countries also have launched their own corruption probes, the FT points out, including Serbia, which has roped in AstraZeneca ($AZN), Actavis, Sanofi ($SNY), Roche and PharmaSwiss, among others.

As the FT reports, Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) agreed to pay $70 million in the U.S. to wrap up an FCPA investigation, and U.K. investigators won a £5 million payment. The allegations included Iraqi kickbacks and "improper payments" to health-system workers in Greece, Poland and Romania. Pfizer ($PFE) has alerted shareholders to an FCPA probe of "potentially improper payments," and is reportedly close to wrapping up that investigation with a settlement. Other companies targeted in FCPA investigations include Merck ($MRK), Baxter ($BAX), Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY), Eli Lilly ($LLY), GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and AstraZeneca.

The proliferation of investigations has its critics, of course. One U.S. pharma exec told the FT companies often settle probes they'd otherwise fight, because of the attendant bad publicity and the possibility of losing government contracts. U.S. investigators are considered opportunists in some quarters for relying on other countries' fact-finding rather than doing their own legwork. Companies are punished while the people asking for bribes and other inducements keep on asking. And countries, such as China, that don't aggressively prosecute corruption may end up with a competitive advantage. "One Chinese businessman told me, 'it's our competitive advantage,'" corruption-tracker Alexandra Wrage told the newspaper.

- see the FT piece