Judge won't toss kickback claims against J&J

Johnson & Johnson will have to fight kickback claims filed by the Justice Department, a federal judge ruled. The company had asked District Judge Richard Stearns to toss out the lawsuit, which alleges that the company paid kickbacks to nursing home pharmacist Omnicare, aiming to boost sales of its atypical antipsychotic med Risperdal.

J&J had claimed the alleged kickbacks were actually perfectly legal rebates. But Stearns apparently thought the facts weren't so cut and dried. He ruled that the DoJ claims--originally filed by whistleblowers, including a former Omnicare pharmacist--can proceed. "This decision is a huge victory against corporate influence over taxpayer-funded health care," whistleblower attorney Michael Behn told Bloomberg.

For its part, a company spokeswoman told Bloomberg, "We will defend the case in court." According to court documents, J&J had asserted that it didn't violate the False Claims Act or the Anti-Kickback Statute as the DoJ alleges. "This case is a remarkable attempt to attack common discounting arrangements," a court memo states (as quoted by Bloomberg). PhRMA and BIO filed a brief supporting J&J in the case.

The J&J allegations are an extension of DoJ's longstanding investigation of Omnicare and its relationship with J&J. Back in Novermber 2009, the pharmacy services firm agreed to pay $298 million to settle related kickback claims. And the case is just the latest in a series of FCA claims against drugmakers.

- read the Bloomberg story