The United States government has announced its second civil fraud lawsuit against Novartis in four days, accusing a unit of the Swiss pharmaceuticals company of paying multi-million-dollar kickbacks to doctors in exchange for prescribing its drugs.
On Friday, US Attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan said the government had joined a whistle-blower lawsuit filed against Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp in January 2011 which seeks triple damages under the federal False Claims Act.
The government accused Novartis of causing the Medicare and Medicaid programmes to pay millions of dollars in reimbursements based on kickback-tainted claims for medication such as hypertension drugs Lotrel and Valturna and diabetes drug Starlix.
Twenty-seven US states, the District of Columbia and the cities of New York and Chicago also joined as plaintiffs.
"Novartis corrupted the prescription drug dispensing process with multi-million-dollar 'incentive programmes' that targeted doctors who, in exchange for illegal kickbacks, steered patients toward its drugs," Bharara said in a statement.
"For its investment, Novartis reaped dramatically increased profits on these drugs, and Medicare, Medicaid and other federal healthcare programmes were left holding the bag."
On Tuesday, the US government accused Novartis of inducing pharmacies to switch thousands of kidney transplant patients to its drug Myfortic in exchange for kickbacks disguised as rebates and discounts.
Novartis spokeswoman Julie Masow said the company disputed the claims in both lawsuits and would defend itself. Its Novartis Pharmaceuticals unit is based in East Hanover, New Jersey.
The original lawsuit over alleged kickbacks to doctors had been filed by a former Novartis sales representative who now lives in North Carolina. His lawyer was not immediately available for comment.
People who file whistle-blower lawsuits on behalf of the government under the False Claims Act share in damage recoveries. The United States does not automatically participate in such lawsuits, but often joins cases it believes have greater merit.
swissinfo.ch and agencies