Novo Nordisk has moved to settle a whistleblower lawsuit alleging the company ran a “white-coat marketing scheme” to pump up sales of NovoLog, Victoza and Levemir.
According to the suit (PDF)—recently unsealed as part of the settlement process—Novo Nordisk partnered with a clinical education company, Healthstar’s PT, to set up a program dubbed Changing Life with Diabetes. The group hired and trained certified diabetes educators (CDEs), according to the suit, which was brought by two former managers and more than two dozen states.
The whistleblowers claim that since 2006, Novo ran the program to gain crucial access at physician practices, where CDEs would provide thousands of dollars worth of educational programs and materials. According to the lawsuit, CDEs would provide:
- Free patient education and seminars;
- Free, in-office training;
- Free Novo-branded log books to give to patients; and
- Unlimited access to “Go To” diabetes experts for patients.
A Novo spokesperson said the drugmaker “reached an agreement in principle to settle certain claims related to this investigation.”
“We deny the allegations, and highly value the role our diabetes educators serve in helping HCPs better understand diabetes and patient care,” Novo’s spokesperson said via email. “The process is not finalized, and as such we can’t provide further comment to this matter at this time.”
The idea behind the program, according to the suit, was to induce prescribers to write scripts for Novo’s diabetes meds by offering such services. CDEs could develop a closer bond with docs than sales reps could, and the companies were “extraordinarily successful” in boosting sales with the program, the suit says.
PhRMA code prohibits gifts or educational services worth more than $100, the lawsuit says.
It’s not the only legal action the Danish drugmaker is facing. Along with peers Sanofi and Eli Lilly, the company has been the focus of congressional scrutiny on insulin prices, with Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Elijah Cummings calling for an official investigation. The drugmaker also faces a pair of class action lawsuits over insulin pricing.
Aside from those challenges, U.S. pricing pressures have taken a toll at Novo lately, forcing the company to cast off 1,000 staffers last fall.