Novartis Must Reveal Details of Alleged 79,200 “Sham” Physician Speaker Events | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |

After a year-long battle, a federal judge ordered Novartis to turn over to the Department Justice documents containing details of allegedly 79,200 “sham” speaking events the drug maker used to encourage doctors to prescribe several blood pressure medicines.


The decision stems from a whistleblower lawsuit, which was initially filed six years ago by a former Novartis sales rep, contending the drug maker violated federal anti-kickback laws for nearly a decade. The Justice Department later joined the lawsuit, which alleged Novartis paid bribes to boost prescriptions and, as a result, caused federal health care programs to overpay for medicines (read “U.S. Seeks Records of 80,000 Novartis `Sham' Events for Doctors”; 


The Justice Department initially received documents from the company about the speaking events, doctors who spoke at or attended the events, and the effect these events had on sales and market share on several blood pressure medicines. The Justice Department last year sought more information about event budgets and incentives that Novartis sales reps received for arranging the events.


But the drug maker argued the government was unfairly expanding the scope of its inquiry to a larger number of speaking events and that the request was “extraordinarily burdensome,” according to court documents. However, US District Court Judge Paul Gardephe decided that Novartis failed to prove the feds waived the right to seek documents pertaining to the nearly 80,000 speaking events.


The drug maker often treated doctors to expensive dinners at high-end restaurants, according to the documents. In one instance, a dinner for three, including the speaker, at a Washington, D.C., restaurant cost $2,016, or $672 per person. At another event held on Valentine’s Day in 2006, Novartis paid $3,127 for a meal for two at a West Des Moines, Iowa, restaurant.


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During the 10-year span, Novartis spent more than $65 million and ran more than 38,000 speaker programs for three of its blood pressure drugs. Speakers were paid an average of between $750 and $1,500, although some received $3,000 per program, according to the court documents. The feds also allege that Novartis had few checks on whether sales reps accurately reported attendance.