Four whistleblower lawsuits accusing Biogen Inc. of violating the False Claims Act by paying millions of dollars in kickbacks to doctors as incentives and rewards for prescribing the company’s multiple sclerosis drugs to Medicare patients have been unsealed.
One of the lawsuits was brought by a former sales representative and marketing staffer, who was employed at the company from 2004 to 2012. The former sales representative alleges Biogen preserved market share for multiple sclerosis drug Avonex and expanded market share for multiple sclerosis drug Tysabri by identifying top prescribers and paying them through sham consulting and speaking schemes to write prescriptions. The sales representative’s lawsuit alleges that Biogen shelled out kickbacks worth $18 million in 2009 and 2010 to 1,500 health care providers who accounted for 60 percent of all multiple sclerosis drug prescriptions despite representing only a small minority of all U.S. providers who treat multiple sclerosis.
The second lawsuit was brought by two of the company’s product managers and one medical director. These individuals allege that Biogen engaged in illegal pre-approval marketing activities such as disguising kickbacks by staging excessive board meetings that doctors were paid to attend. The lawsuit alleges these payments were intended to encourage use of multiple sclerosis drug Tecfidera, which obtained U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval in 2013. The third lawsuit alleged Biogen provided influential prescribers with improper kickbacks in the form of exorbitant speaker fees, advisory board fees and study site fees. The fourth lawsuit was brought by a former Biogen business manager who had been tasked with expanding sales of Avonex and Tysabri. The business manager accused Biogen of strategically seeking out and paying kickbacks to the highest-prescribing multiple sclerosis specialists in the country to induce providers to use its multiple sclerosis products.
The Anti-Kickback Statute prohibits offering, paying, soliciting or receiving remuneration to induce referrals of items or services covered by federally funded programs. The purpose of the statute is to ensure that a doctor’s medical judgment is not compromised by improper financial incentives and is instead based on the best interests of the patient. When health care companies pursue profits by paying kickbacks to doctors, they undermine a patient’s ability to trust that medical decisions are being made for scientific reasons, not financial ones.
Source: Law 360
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