Pfizer loses to whistleblower
Source: New Zealand News
Microbiologist David Franklin said conscience made him blow the whistle on Pfizer's Warner-Lambert unit over promoting the epilepsy drug Neurontin for off-label uses, including hiccups. His reward will be about US$26 million ($43 million).
"I actually had training for it," said Franklin, 42, in a press conference in Boston after Warner-Lambert agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges that it misbranded the medication. "It was ridiculous."
Warner-Lambert will pay more than US$430 million ($715 million) to settle with the Justice Department, from which Franklin's award comes, the Government said.
Franklin sued the company in 1996 under a US law that encourages employees to report illegal activities at their companies.
Also known as the False Claims Act, the law was passed in 1863 to crack down on war-profiteering during the Civil War. It allows individuals to bring lawsuits on behalf of the federal Government and receive part of any settlement or judgment, said labour lawyer Darren Feider.
The Justice Department recovered US$2.1 billion ($3.5 billion) under the False Claims Act in the year ended September 30 last year, up from US$1.1 billion ($1.8 billion) the previous year, said Charles Miller, a Justice Department spokesman in Washington. Of last year's total, more than half was from health-care fraud, he said.
Franklin's award is far from the largest. In 2001 Douglas Durand, a former vice-president of sales at TAP Pharmaceuticals, got US$77 million ($128 million) for triggering a suit against his employer. The Warner-Lambert case was the second-largest criminal settlement.
Franklin also asked Pfizer to pay legal fees, according to his lawyer, Thomas Greene. His firm specialises in commercial litigation, including aeroplane crashes and whistleblower cases.
Warner-Lambert, which Pfizer acquired in 2000, paid doctors to attend conferences in Hawaii, Florida and the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, where Neurontin was touted as a treatment for such ailments as migraines and bipolar mental disorder, the Government said. The Government's Medicare and Medicaid health programmes for the elderly, disabled and poor were defrauded by such uses of the drug, officials said.
Warner-Lambert hired research fellow Franklin for a medical liaison position in 1996, and company officials soon began introducing him as Dr Franklin to enhance his credibility in visits with physicians, he said.
"We were made very much aware that the patent life on Neurontin was very short," he said. "I was trained very quickly to adjust from being a cardiology expert to a neurology expert."
Franklin, who is now vice-president of marketing science at Boston Scientific in Natick, Massachusetts, outside Boston, said he was "blackballed" from working in the pharmaceutical industry.
"This has been the most disruptive thing I can imagine can take place in anyone's life," he said.
He plans to continue working at Boston Scientific, even as a newly minted millionaire.
"My wife and I have struggled over the years to not make this a defining moment in our lives," he said. At the same time, "a vacation would be good".
Franklin does have advice for other potential whistleblowers.
"People who are in the position I was in need to think about their own futures, and how they feel about themselves, and what their kids look up to, and why they got into this business in the first place," he said.
"That's where the endurance of this thing comes into play."