Witness: J&J aimed Risperdal pitch at childrens' doctors

With every Risperdal trial--and there have been more than a few--we hear new allegations about Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) marketing techniques. That infamous doctor letter in South Carolina, for instance, in which J&J touted Risperdal as less risky and more effective than its antipsychotic rivals--and which cost the company $327 million in penalties, unless and until J&J wins its appeal.

This time, we're looking at a patient liability suit, one of many that attempt to link Risperdal use with boys' breast development. The allegation itself is sensational enough to grab headlines. But yesterday's testimony from an ex-J&J sales manager gave reporters plenty of sound bites--and the opportunity to use the word "popcorn" in a headline.

As Bloomberg reports, Tone Jones, a former district manager at J&J's Janssen unit, testified that part of his job was training sales reps to target doctors who treated children and adolescents. At the time, Risperdal was only FDA-approved for use in adults. Jones also said that he received more than $12,000 in bonuses tied to Risperdal sales to doctors treating chidlren and teens.

Jones and his colleagues offered the usual inducements to doctors, including golf trips for doctors who were regular prescribers. But they also distributed specially-made bags of microwaveable popcorn. The company wanted reps to "butter up doctors with Risperdal popcorn," Jones testified.

J&J's lawyers say the company didn't market Risperdal illegally, and that J&J officials had a policy requiring salespeople to be fired if they were shown to have marketed Risperdal illegally. A company spokeswoman told Bloomberg that J&J's policy was to promote Risperdal only for FDA-approved uses.

Risperdal marketing has been under scrutiny for years. As Bloomberg points out, J&J last month agreed to pay $181 million to settle claims from 36 states that it improperly marketed Risperdal and its fellow J&J antipsychotic Invega. The company has disclosed that it's close to settling a federal investigation into Risperdal marketing. And South Carolina isn't the only state to levy a massive penalty against J&J in a Risperdal marketing case; in Arkansas, a judge ordered the company to pay $1.2 billion in fines in connection with Risperdal marketing practices. J&J has appealed that order.

- read the Bloomberg piece

Special Report: Johnson & Johnson - Risperdal, Invega, Natrecor, Levaquin, Procrit -- Pharma's Top 11 Marketing Settlements