Supreme Court won't take up ex-InterMune CEO's free-speech defense

Former InterMune ($ITMN) CEO Scott Harkonen is at the end of the legal line. The Supreme Court declined to take up his appeal, and so his conviction for wire fraud--related to a drug-trial press release--will stand.

It's a long and winding story, which began when Harkonen himself wrote a press release about a trial failure for the company's drug Actimmune. Rather than limit itself to the fact that Actimmune didn't meet its goals in an idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis trial, the release touted its success in a subset of patients who responded well to the drug.

Harkonen did note in the release that Actimmune had officially failed the trial. But he highlighted the positive numbers--and projected that the drug could bring in up to $500 million a year if approved for use in that subset of patients. (Eventually, the company actually tested Actimmune in that patient population, and it failed again.)

Prosecutors tagged InterMune with off-label marketing, but Harkonen's eventual conviction came under the category of wire fraud. The company itself paid $36 million to settle Justice Department allegations of off-label marketing, Reuters notes.

Harkonen had appealed to the Supreme Court on free-speech grounds. Saying what he believed about the drug was his right, or so the theory went. But the justices won't consider the argument, and Harkonen's conviction stands.

He's now serving out a sentence of 6 months of home confinement, but the real kicker is that he'll effectively be barred from the pharma business once he's free because he won't be able to work for any company that bills Medicare.

- read the Reuters news