Yet another Big Pharma company has been fined due to unscrupulous marketing practices: Astra Zeneca the Anglo-Swiss drugs company has been fined just over half a billion US dollars ($520 Billion) in a settlement announced today. This comes hot on the heels of a much larger settlement ($1.4 Billion US dollars) by Eli Lilley relating to their product, Zyprexa.
Seroquel is among the top-selling drugs in the world with 2009 sales of $4.9 billion (15% of AstraZeneca’s $33.2 billion in revenue is for schizophrenia and specific types of bipolar mania).
So, what was the problem?
AstraZeneca was charged with promoting Seroquel to physicians for use “off-label” in children and the elderly. Doctors are allowed to prescribe drugs for unapproved uses but FDA rules state that drug manufacturers may only promote their products for approved conditions and age groups. The Department of Justice said it had taken action as AstraZeneca had deliberately and actively promoted Seroquel to doctors “off-label” for a range of uses not authorised by the Food and Drug Administration, including aggression, Alzheimer’s disease, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression and sleeplessness.
How did the drug company actually promote their product to doctors?
The DoJ accused the company of marketing the drug to doctors who were not specialists in schizophrenia and psychosis, for which it was authorised, and of funding education programmes (i.e. these can include incentives such as glamorous holidays masquerading as ‘educational events”) and employing doctors as highly paid speakers and even going so far as to have doctors as named authors on academic articles “ghostwritten” by Astra Zeneca’s backroom boys to promote Seroquel.
Eric Holder, the attorney-general, said:
“Illegal acts by pharmaceutical companies and false claims against Medicare and Medicaid can put the public health at risk, corrupt medical decisions by health care providers and take billions of dollars directly out of taxpayers’ pockets.”
The settlement comes at a time when the company faces litigation in the US totaling more than $1.2bn from thousands of plaintiffs, including many patients who claim they became overweight or diabetic following prescription of the medicine.
Jayney Goddard is one of the world's leading experts in the field of complementary medicine and natural healthcare. She is President of The Complementary Medical Association and is also a Fellow of The Royal Society of Medicine and a Fellow of the Royal Society for Public Health.