NEWARK (CN) – A former vice president claims Pfizer fired him for blowing the whistle that started a federal investigation that cost the world’s biggest drug company millions of dollars in fines. Peter Rost claims he was fired after disclosing alarming aspects of Pharmacia’s business to Pfizer during an October 2002 “knowledge transfer” meeting during Pfizer’s friendly acquisition of Pharmacia.
“The meeting included discussions on potential criminal legal issues,” Rost says in his pro se complaint.
Rost’s case against Pfizer has traveled a circuitous path to Essex County Court.
The Manhattan Federal Court dismissed his original complaint, alleging False Claims Act violations, and the 2nd Circuit upheld the dismissal and remanded to the District Court, which declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction.
So Rost has refiled in Superior Court, alleging violations of New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act.
Rost worked for Pharmacia as a vice president of endocrine care. Pharmacia completed its acquisition of Pharmacia in December 2002.
During the “knowledge transfer” meeting, Rost says, “Rost and one of his subordinates explained how up to 800 physicians were sent to all-expenses-paid meetings at sumptuous resorts every year, which potentially violated AMA and FDA guidelines on drug promotion. Rost’s subordinate, the associate director, Outcomes Research, had been raising the issues of potential illegality regarding the compensation of physicians since February 2000. Rost also informed Pfizer’s in-house legal counsel, Judith Tytel, that he had previously discussed this with Pharmacia’s associate general counsel and compliance officer, who still approved this practice which Rost reasonably believed might be illegal under a federal anti-kickback statute, i.e. 42 U.S.C. §1320a-7b(b). Under this statute, drug companies may not offer or pay any remuneration, in cash or kind, directly or indirectly, to induce physicians or others to order or recommend drugs that may be paid for by Medicaid” or other federal programs, according to the complaint.
Rost says he also disclosed the possible illegal, off-label marketing of the growth hormone Genotropin.
Rost says that in November 2002 he contacted a Pfizer vice president and expressed interest in continuing his employment with Pfizer once the company’s acquisition of Pharmacia was consummated. He says the executive responded the same day, writing, “there is no question whatsoever on our side with your being considered for several positions.”
But on Jan. 17, 2003, The New York Times published an article describing Rost’s lawsuit against his former employer, Wyeth, in which he claimed that he had been demoted after blowing the whistle on international tax fraud.
That same day, Rost says, the Pfizer executive emailed him, notifying him that there would be no vice president position available for him in the new Pfizer-Pharmacia organization. But Rost claims he never had indicated that he was interested only in a vice presidency.
His complaint adds: On January 21, 2003, plaintiff wrote a response to [the Pfizer executive, Marie-Caroline] Sainpy, saying that ‘If you lose key company memory and competence you will have a greater difficulty protecting your legal interests’ and disclosed in detail illegal acts committed by the endocrine care business, and the legal exposure the company had to charges of distributing a misbranded drug into interstate commerce; violation of FDCA to distribute human growth hormone for off-label use and fraud and abuse issues including exposure to the anti-kickback statute and false claims act. He ended the e-mail ‘In summary, all this taken together should result in a more careful assessment at Pfizer of who should be of assistance to you in the new organization and at what level they should be placed.’ This e-mail resulted in significant correspondence within and between the Pfizer and Pharmacia legal departments.”
Rost claims that Pfizer then began a “malicious campaign to discredit” him through a private investigator.
Rost says he learned through the media that he was being fired, on Dec. 1, 2005.
He demands damages from Pfizer, Pharmacia and Sainpy.