Amgen to pay $25M to wrap up Aranesp kickbacks case

Amgen ($AMGN) has inked another marketing settlement with the U.S. government. The biotech giant agreed to pay $24.9 million to wrap up allegations that it used kickbacks to induce long-term care pharmacies to use more of its Aranesp anemia drug--and not only for patients with anemia caused by chronic kidney failure, the drug's officially approved use.

It's a small fraction of the $762 million deal Amgen made with the Justice Department in December, but unlike the larger settlement, doesn't involve a criminal guilty plea; the company has admitted no wrongdoing. The allegations in this case, however, include some very similar to those in the previous settlement.

According to the DoJ, Amgen granted rebates to the pharmacies for boosting Aranesp's share of their market and for hitting certain volume targets. A basketful of other payments--including speaking fees, consulting deals and free travel--also came into the picture, the settlement agreement alleges. Amgen urged its pharmacy cohorts--Omnicare, PharMerica and Kindred Healthcare--to identify Medicare and Medicaid patients using a rival drug, and switch them to Aranesp instead. Amgen reps also pressured pharmacists to use Aranesp in patients who hadn't been diagnosed with kidney-related anemia.

One of those pharmacy providers, Omnicare, made its own deal with the Department of Justice in 2009, in a kickbacks case involving drugs from Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries ($TEVA). And last year, J&J disclosed that it's close to its own settlement with the DoJ, including allegations of kickbacks to Omnicare.

"We will continue to pursue pharmaceutical companies that pay kickbacks to long-term care pharmacy providers to influence drug prescribing decisions," Stuart Delery, acting assistant AG in the Justice Department, said in a statement. "Patients in skilled nursing facilities deserve care that is free of improper financial influences."

Some $17.8 million of Amgen's $24.9 million settlement goes to the federal government, with the remainder--$7.1 million--going to the state Medicaid programs participating in the deal. As Reuters notes, the whistleblower lawsuit prompting the settlement was the fourth of five that Amgen has disclosed. One was settled and two others dismissed, Amgen said.

- get the release from the DoJ
- see the settlement deal (PDF)
- read the news from Reuters

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