Judge throws out RICO class action

Do RICO claims against drugmakers have a real chance? The answer appears to be yes and no. A federal judge in Florida threw out a case pitting several union health benefit funds against AstraZeneca over Seroquel. The funds claimed that they were hoodwinked by an off-label marketing campaign that misrepresented Seroquel's safety and efficacy. And they sued the drugmaker under the Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organizations act.

The Florida judge, Anne Conway, said the RICO claims wouldn't stand as a class action because doctors determining whether any misrepresentations about Seroquel influenced prescribing behavior would require questioning the physicians one by one--and patient by patient. That ruling conflicts with another in a RICO case involving Eli Lilly; Judge Jack Weinstein allowed the class-action RICO claims to proceed.

One expert told Pharmalot that Conway's ruling should cheer drugmakers fearing RICO-based class actions. "These two decisions are both at the trial court level, so they're less significant than appellate decisions would be," said Mark Herrman, an attorney at Jones Day who defends drugmakers. "But they reflect a high-stakes game, because they speak to whether insurance companies can bring RICO class actions by saying that drug companies misrepresented the benefits of their drugs, increasing the insurers' payments."

- see the Pharmalot article