Pacira's Exparel marketing falls under Justice Department microscope

The U.S. Justice Department has another drugmaker's marketing practices in its sights. Pacira Pharmaceuticals ($PCRX) said it received a subpoena from federal prosecutors, demanding information about its Exparel marketing.

Exparel, a treatment for pain after surgery, is the source of 95% of Pacira's revenue, with $189 million in sales last year. The company says it's expecting even bigger things in 2015, with a forecast of up to $330 million from the product by year's end.

The subpoena seeks "a broad range of documents pertaining to marketing and promotional practices," the company says in a Thursday SEC filing. "Pacira intends to cooperate with the government's investigation."

The FDA warned Pacira last September about its Exparel marketing practices. The agency said the company had said the drug worked for up to three days, though it has only won approval for 24-hour pain relief.

The Justice Department has been going after drugmakers for marketing missteps for decades, but enforcement has stepped up in recent years. The biggest headlines have covered multibillion-dollar settlements with Big Pharma giants--$3 billion with GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK), $2.3 billion with Pfizer ($PFE), $1.3 billion with Eli Lilly & Co. ($LLY).

Prosecutors have recently focused on much smaller drugmakers as well. Just last month, Shire ($SHPG) said it agreed to pay $56.5 million to wrap up allegations that it overstepped marketing rules in promoting several ADHD meds, including Adderall XR and Vyvanse.

Word of the Exparel marketing probe follows some bad news for the drug last month. The FDA rejected Pacira's application for a new use for Exparel, which it had expected to account for some 10% of its sales this year.

- see Pacira's SEC filing

Special Reports: Pharma's top 11 marketing settlements

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