Pharmaceutical giant pleads guilty to three criminal charges over mis-selling of drugs and withholding of data
By David Ingram,
WASHINGTON -- GlaxoSmithKline Plc agreed to plead guilty to
misdemeanor criminal charges and pay $3 billion to settle what
government officials on Monday described as the largest case of
healthcare fraud in U.S. history.The agreement, which still needs court approval, would resolve allegations that the British drugmaker broke U.S. laws in the marketing and development of pharmaceuticals.
GSK targeted the antidepressant Paxil to patients under age 18 when
it was approved for adults only, and it pushed the drug Wellbutrin for
uses it was not approved for, including weight loss and treatment of
sexual dysfunction, according to an investigation led by the U.S.
The company went to extreme lengths to promote the drugs, such as
distributing a misleading medical journal article and providing doctors
with meals and spa treatments that amounted to illegal kickbacks,
prosecutors said.In a third instance, GSK failed to give the
U.S. Food and Drug Administration safety data about its diabetes drug
Avandia, in violation of U.S. law, prosecutors said.The
misconduct continued for years beginning in the late 1990s and
continued, in the case of Avandia's safety data, through 2007. GSK
agreed to plead guilty to three misdemeanor criminal counts, one each
related to the three drugs.Guilty pleas in cases of alleged corporate misconduct are exceedingly rare, making GSK's agreement especially unusual.
The agreement to settle the charges "is unprecedented in both size and scope," said James Cole, the No. 2 official
at the U.S. Justice Department. He called the action "historic" and "a
clear warning to any company that chooses to break the law."The settlement includes $1 billion in criminal fines and $2 billion in civil fines.
said in a statement it would pay the fines through existing cash
resources. The company announced a $3 billion charge in November related
to legal claims.Chief Executive Officer Andrew Witty said the
misconduct originated "in a different era for the company" and will not
be tolerated. "I want to express our regret and reiterate that we have
learnt from the mistakes that were made," he said in a written
statement.The GSK settlement surpasses what had been the largest criminal case involving a drugmaker in U.S. history. In 2009, Pfizer Inc agreed to pay $2.3 billion to settle allegations it improperly marketed 13 drugs.
The cases follow a trend of U.S. authorities
cracking down on how pharmaceuticals are sold, in part because of the
rising cost of providing drugs through government programs.Part of civil fines address allegations that, from 1994 to 2003, GSK underpaid money owed to Medicaid, the healthcare
program for the poor run jointly by states and the federal government.
The company had an obligation to tell the government its "best prices"
but failed to do so, prosecutors said, and $300 million of the
settlement will go to states and other public health authorities.A portion of the $2 billion in civil fines may go to a group of whistleblowers
who contributed to the government's investigation and who are eligible
to share in the recovery under the False Claims Act. Cole said the
amount has not been determined.As part of the settlement, GlaxoSmithKline agreed to new restrictions by the U.S. government
to prevent the use of kickbacks or other prohibited practices. The
inspector general of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
will oversee the "Corporate Integrity Agreement" for five years.The
company will not be able to compensate its salesmen based on sales
goals for territories. It was also required to change its executive
compensation program to allow the company to "claw back" certain pay
for those engaged in misconduct.Witty said GSK's U.S. unit
has "fundamentally changed our procedures for compliance, marketing
and selling. When necessary, we have removed employees who have engaged
in misconduct."Prosecutors have not brought criminal charges against any individuals in connection
with the GSK case, although the settlement expressly leaves open that
possibility. Cole declined to comment on the possibility of future
charges.Almost exactly a year ago GSK agreed to pay nearly $41 million to 37
states and the District of Columbia in an unrelated case about
substandard manufacturing processes at a Puerto Rico factory.In 2010, the company took a $2.4 billion charge in connection with Avandia to settle claims from patients.
GSK's shares were positive on the New York Stock Exchange on Monday, up 1.6 percent to $46.29 at 1400 EDT.
The case is U.S. v. GlaxoSmithKline LLC, U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, No. 12-cr-10206.
In: Other News
Tags: pharmaceutical, company, pleads, guilty, 3, three, billion, fined
Location: Washington, District of Columbia, United States (load item map)
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