Lilly could pay $1B to settle on Zyprexa

If remorse is proportional to the amount you're willing to pay to absolve it, then Eli Lilly must be feeling pretty guilty about Zyprexa. According to The New York Times, the drug maker and federal prosecutors are dickering over a deal to settle state and federal investigations into the company's marketing of the antipsychotic drug. The price tag could be a whopping $1 billion, paid to federal and state governments. It would be the largest fine ever paid by a drug maker for breaking drug-marketing laws.

You'll recall that Lilly has been taken to task for promoting Zyprexa for use in age-related dementia and for mild bipolar disorder, both off-label uses. In fact, the FDA has said that Zyprexa shouldn't be used in dementia patients because of safety risks. In recent months, states have uncovered widespread use of Zyprexa (and other atypical antipsychotics) in nursing home patients, many of whom probably shouldn't be taking the drugs.

According to the NYT's sources, the settlement deal might include a misdemeanor guilty plea, but it would also allow Lilly to continue to sell Zyprexa to Medicare and Medicaid. That's a big deal, because the government programs are Zyprexa's biggest consumers, and the drug is Lilly's most profitable, with 2007 sales of $4.8 billion.

Ironically, Lilly's incoming chief exec John Lechleiter (photo) told the Wall Street Journal Health Blog a couple days ago that he thinks his company and the pharma industry as a whole are unfairly scapegoated. "When we're willing to come back and set the record straight, we're showing through actions that this is not the stereotype people have of this industry." 

- read the report from The New York Times
- check out the item from the WSJ Health Blog

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