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Big Pharma Can’t Duck False Claims Suit

SACRAMENTO (CN) - A federal judge denied three pharmaceutical giants' request to dismiss a False Claims Act lawsuit alleging they paid kickbacks to doctors to prescribe the blood thinner Integrilin for off-label uses.

Plaintiff Frank Solis worked as a sales rep for all three defendants: Millennium Pharmaceuticals, Schering-Plough and Merck and Co. Integrilin is an anti-clotting drug often used for heart-attack patients.

Solis also claimed that Shering-Plough and Merck, but not Millennium, pushed Avelox for off-label uses. Avelox is an antibiotic that is sometimes prescribed with Integrilin.

Solis' Nov. 4, 2009 sealed lawsuit was filed under qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act. He claimed former employers fraudulently marketed Integrilin and Avelox for off label uses not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

The defendants "caused physicians to improperly prescribe the drugs and, consequently, to submit false claims to Medicare for federal reimbursement," Solis claimed.

Doctors are allowed to prescribe drugs for off-label uses, but drug companies are not allowed to promote drugs for that.

Solis claimed in his 144-page lawsuit that the defendants used kickbacks and bribes to influence doctors to prescribe Integrilin for off-label uses.

He claimed the kickbacks were disguised as funding grants, excessive speaker fees for high-prescribing doctors, and funding of advisory boards to influence doctors.

Though the pharmaceutical companies deny the allegations, U.S. District Chief Judge Morrison England Jr. found Solis's complaint to be detailed enough to deny the defendants' motion to dismiss.

"Relator herein argues that moving defendants had the requisite involvement in the submission of claims they knew were false in two different ways: 1) improper marketing of Integrilin for off-label uses; and 2) using kickbacks, bribes and other remuneration in contravention of the Anti-Kickback Statute to influence doctors to prescribe Integrilin," England wrote.

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