Articles Posted in Drug Companies

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Two pharmaceutical manufacturers, Watson Pharmaceuticals and Sandoz/Geneva Pharmaceuticals, have settled drug pricing lawsuits for $145 million, according to a settlement agreement filed in federal court. Watson makes generic drugs; Sandoz is owned by Novartis’ generic drug division (did you know they had one?).

By now, the allegations in these claims are commonplace. The lawsuits alleged that these drug companies charged government health care programs with inflated prices for prescription drugs. This case spun out into an MDL in the District of Massachusetts.

Both lawsuits were filed under the U.S. False Claims Act – a whistleblower statute – by Ven-A-Care of the Florida Keys Inc., a specialty pharmacy. The law allows whistle-blowers to file on behalf of the government and share in any recovery. Their lawyers are pocketing some real cash, Ven-A-Care gets some found money (between the two, $8.3 million), and the states make out well, too. The big ones bring home the real bacon: Texas will receive $29.5 million, Florida $20.2 million, and New York $79 million.

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Bristol-Myers Squibb issued a recall yesterday for a single lot of its blood-thinning drug Coumadin. The recall affects certain 5-milligram Coumadin tablets that expire on September 30, 2012. The recall came after an oversized tablet.

My dad ended up in the hospital once for a Coumadin overdose. But it wasn’t Bristol-Myers fault. My dad got the amount mixed up in his head and was taking like four times the recommended dose. So he started bleeding like crazy. (We still played tennis that weekend.)

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If your sole source of information about drug and medical device companies was the Drug Recall Lawyer Blog, you would have a pretty low opinion of drug and medical device companies. We all agree that drug companies are doing great things and awful things. We just disagree with the balance.

On the very positive side of the ledger sheet for drug companies is Bristol-Myers Squibb’s incredibly exciting news that its new drug Yervoy prolonged survival in advanced skin cancer patients.

Because many skin cancers are extremely minor – my wife was diagnosed with incredibly minor skin cancer last year – skin cancer does not get as bad of a rap as it should. Some skin cancers – particularly, obviously, advanced skin cancers – are tough to combat.

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The Baltimore Sun is reporting that the Maryland General Assembly is considering legislation to bar gifts from drug and medical device companies to doctors as another backlash from the St. Joe’s stent debacle in which a doctor is accused of performing unnecessary stent procedures.

How does this tie in to gifts for doctors? Good question. I’m not entirely sure. Maryland doctors are commonly paid by drug and medical device companies to promote products to other doctors. So the thinking is maybe Abbott’s incentives helped push stents?

If they enact this law, they will make good laws for all the wrong reasons. Which I guess is okay. But, let’s be realistic. It will never happen. Doctor and hospital lobbyists plus drug company lobbyists plus no real public inertia for change equals no change. You can bank on that equation.

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The Oregon Attorney General John Kroger announced today that a lawsuit has been filed claiming that Johnson & Johnson should not have left its defective Motrin on the market.

The allegations are problematic for J&J. The lawsuit claims that instead of coming clean, J&J planned a “phantom recall” by quietly pulling the defective product.

Again, I appreciate Oregon’s view. But the real end game is stopping and punishing drug and medical device companies when they are putting the public in real danger as opposed to selling a product that smells bad. I think there may be a forest for the trees problem.

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Too often, drug companies choose profits over people. I’m sure this statement is true. But the cousin of this argument, drug companies make too much money, I think is flawed.

A story I just read underscores why drug companies can charge $200 for a pill that costs $.05 to make and still be charging a fair price. Inspire Pharmaceuticals suffered an awful setback for both the company and for cystic fibrosis patients when its experimental treatment for cystic fibrosis failed to improve patients’ health in a critical study of the treatment’s safety and efficacy. Their stock fell, good people will probably lose their jobs, and cystic fibrosis patients continue to look to the next horizon for better treatment options. There are a lot of losers for every drug that is not a hit and not just the pharmaceutical company that will have no profits from which to draw for their next experimental treatment.

Why make this point on the Drug Recall Lawyer Blog? Because I think it is important to identify the real problem. When we say these drug companies just make too much money, the fallacy of this argument bleeds into the real truth: businesses, in general, have a tendency to put profits ahead of people and we need effective watchdogs of personal injury lawsuits and government regulation to level off the tendency. This does not mean most businesses do this. Most businesses and most drug companies do the right thing. But too many do the wrong thing and those folks need to be watched like hawks. A big company like Johnson & Johnson has divisions that are like companies. Some are great and some are not so good.

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Last month, I took exception to a Drug and Device Law Blog post and wrote a semi snarly retort on the topic of the confidentiality of discovery documents.

Bad move. The Drug and Device Law Blog fired back a response pretty much took my post and beat me over the head with it. Adding insult to injury, they did it with good writing and good humor. I hate it when the bad guys are good and funny. It makes them seem almost human, an idea that fits in poorly with my worldview.

I thought they got some substance just dead wrong and there was lots of room for a good counterattack. But to find the time to write a cogent, witty response to rival theirs? They spit that response out in an hour; I bet. It would take me all day to come up with something and it still would not have been as well written.

Thankfully, my brother jumped in to stand up for me. My brother? Yes, for our purposes here, my brother. Justinian Lane stepped up and wrote the response I wanted to write (link since deleted, unfortunately). Even better, actually.

So instead of beating this topic any further, I’ll comment off-topic to the core issues in this debate and address another fascinating point Justinian makes about the economic disparity between plaintiffs’ lawyers and defense lawyers:

In DDL’s first post, they made a quip about plaintiffs’ lawyers buying Maybachs, and now they’re complaining that “plenty” of plaintiffs’ lawyers have private jets. While I don’t think that the authors of DDL are green with envy over the financial success of a few plaintiffs’ lawyers, plenty of their readership is. By and large, defense lawyers go to better schools than plaintiffs’ lawyers, earn better grades, write better briefs, and I’ll say it – are better lawyers. And they know it. It therefore irritates them to no end that lawyers who they perceive as being inferior to them are more financially successful than they are.

I don’t know that defense lawyers are better trial lawyers than plaintiffs’ lawyers in mass tort cases. Plaintiffs’ lawyers get more reps because, typically, plaintiffs’ lawyers have more trial experience. A lot of great mass tort defense lawyers can go a career without trying a case. I’m not saying they can’t do it effectively when called upon but, like with most things, experience counts. Pharmaceutical companies hire great trial lawyers but if cases are remanded all over the country, they don’t have as deep of a bench as plaintiffs’ lawyers.

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Too often, we look to lawsuits as our first resource to settle disputes. People need to stop bundling all of their problems at the doorstep of someone else and take responsibility for their own mistakes (illness, condition, etc.).

This is the Drug Company Manifesto, page 1. Fair enough. But these drug companies are like those who believe that driving 55 mph is for everyone but them.

Lately, when doing research on claims against various drug and medical device companies, it has taken me an inordinate amount of time to find what I am looking for because I have to weed through so many patent lawsuits between these drug companies. The wars between these companies remind me of the ongoing wars in George Orwell’s 1984 where the enemy was always changing. In some ways, they should thank plaintiffs’ drug injury lawyers because we create a common enemy they can rally behind.

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MassTortDefense Blog posted about the U.S. Supreme Court decision to not hear a punitive damages case, Wyeth v. Scroggin.

In the first trial, bifurcated on liability and damages, the jury held the drug company responsible to the tune of $2.7 million in compensatory damages, and then $19.4 million in punitive damages. Appeals predictably followed, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit overturned the punitive damages award based on some evidence that should not have been permitted. That court then ordered a new trial on punitive damages, only.

The issue that some wanted the Supreme Court to decide was whether a new trial on punitive damages alone was okay, or whether the entire trial had to be redone.

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Mylotarg-06-22-10.jpgMylotarg, Pfizer’s leukemia drug that was approved by the FDA in 2000 under an accelerated approval program (early approval for drugs that show particular promise) will be pulled from the market. A continuing study revealed that patients are more likely to die while taking Mylotarg and chemotherapy than those who undergo chemotherapy, alone. That study was prematurely stopped last August (ten months ago? What’s the deal with the delay between the study results and pulling the drug from the market?)

One physician from the Cleveland Clinic noted that the drug did cause disease remission; unfortunately, it also caused increased toxicity which was oftentimes fatal.

If you are taking this drug, be sure to consult with your physician about whether you should continue to take it.

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