Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis must face a United States government lawsuit accusing it of paying millions of dollars in kickbacks to doctors so they would prescribe its drugs, Reuters reported.
A federal judge in Manhattan ruled on Monday that the US government had offered evidence of a “company-wide kickback scheme.” It also ruled that the government does not need to prove a direct “quid pro quo” deal between medics and doctors for the company to be liable.
The ruling means Novartis is headed for a trial – unless it settles.
“We are disappointed in today’s decision and look forward to presenting our case at trial,” Novartis spokesman Eric Althoff said in an email statement quoted by Reuters. “We continue to believe that the government has insufficient evidence to support its claims.”
The case took shape in 2011 when Oswald Bilotta, a former Novartis sales representative, filed a whistleblower lawsuit. The US government and the state of New York both intervened in the case in 2013.
Hypertension drugs and alleged sham events
Novartis is accused of paying doctors kickbacks so they would prescribe drugs such as the hypertension drugs Lotrel and Valturna, as well as Starlix, which is used in the treatment of diabetes.
The lawsuit claims that those kickbacks included speaking fees for doctors at “sham” educational events. One doctor was reportedly paid to speak at his own office eight times.
Novartis allegedly treated doctors to lavish meals, including a $9,750 (CHF 9,750) dinner for three at a Japanese restaurant.
American health insurance programs Medicare and Medicaid were billed millions of dollars from 2002 to 2011 for drugs prescribed by doctors who took kickbacks, according to the lawsuit said.
The US government is seeking damages of three times what it was billed for allegedly fraudulent claims. Novartis has settled US allegations that it used illegal methods to promote its medicines in the past.
In 2010, Novartis paid $422 million to settle various allegations, including claims of paying kickbacks to doctors.
Novartis agreed to pay $390 million in October 2015 to settle claims that it paid rebates to specialty pharmacies to push two of its drugs, without admitting wrongdoing.