Novartis forced to face claims it fired employee for raising Gilenya kickback scheme concerns

Novartis recently escaped another whistleblower suit over alleged Gilenya kickback schemes. (Novartis)

Dogged by whistleblower kickback claims over its multiple sclerosis med Gilenya for years, Novartis has run off a recent string of court wins to escape the allegations.

But in one New Jersey suit, Novartis will now be forced to confront a former employee's claims that he was fired without cause for bringing a kickback scheme to light.

Novartis must face claims it retaliated against one of its employees for raising concerns the drugmaker engaged in a pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) kickback scheme for Gilenya, a New Jersey district judge ruled Thursday. 

In an amended complaint, former Novartis employee Joseph Perri alleged he was terminated after notifying management about "disparities" between the drugmaker's commercial and Medicare Part D rebates paid to a PBM for Gilenya––a blockbuster MS med that has faced an onslaught of generic challengers in recent years. 

Perri's original suit, which also included three False Claims Act allegations against Novartis, was dismissed by Judge Kevin McNulty in February 2019. The amended complaint with only the retaliation claim was filed in October, according to court filings. 

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Perri's retaliation claims are no laughing matter for Novartis but are still a reprieve from the kickback allegations that have haunted Gilenya for years. And so far, the drugmaker has escaped relatively unscathed.

A New York district judge in late March dismissed a 2013 whistleblower suit alleging Novartis paid doctor kickbacks for MS med Gilenya due to a lack of "detailed allegations and representative examples," according to a court filing. 

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The lawsuit, originally filed by former Novartis sales rep Stephen Camburn, had the backing of federal prosecutors and at least 28 state attorneys general. The suit alleged Novartis used a "sham" speaker series to funnel money into doctors' pockets to boost subscriptions of Gilenya. However, Camburn's complaints didn't establish enough evidence to support a violation of the False Claims Act, Judge Kimba Wood wrote in her opinion. 

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