New York Serono Sales Rep Charged With Bribing Physicians To Prescribe AIDS Wasting Drug Serostim
Federal prosecutors on Tuesday brought charges in U.S. District Court in Boston against a former sales director for Swiss biotechnology company Serono, alleging that he bribed doctors in New York City to write prescriptions for the company's AIDS-related drug Serostim, the Boston Globe reports (Kerber, Boston Globe, 12/16). Serostim, which is a growth hormone, is prescribed to HIV-positive patients to treat AIDS-related wasting. Many AIDS patients receive the drug through the state-federal Medicaid program, which includes the medication in its drug formularies (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/15). The charges brought against Adam Stupak, formerly a New York regional sales director for Serono, came after he agreed to cooperate with the U.S. attorney's office in an ongoing grand jury investigation into the company's practices, according to Evan Slavitt, Stupak's attorney, the Globe reports (Boston Globe, 12/16). In 2001, the U.S. attorney's office in Boston subpoenaed Serono, requesting nearly 10 years' worth of documents pertaining to Serostim, and the company in 2002 received similar requests from authorities in California, Florida, Maryland and New York. The criminal and civil investigations are focused on whether the company violated federal and state false claims acts or antikickback laws, which prohibit drug companies from offering incentives to doctors to prescribe a drug covered by the government, individuals familiar with the investigations say (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/15).
Details on Charges
According to the court filing, Stupak was one of six sales directors who met in Boston in March 1999 to discuss how Serono might "boost" Serostim use, the Globe reports (Boston Globe, 12/16). Serono management allegedly required the directors to identify the "highest prescribing physicians" in each region and offer "financial incentives" in order to obtain the required number of prescriptions to achieve a sales goal of $6 million in six days, according to a U.S. attorney's office release. Part of the plan was to offer an all-expenses-paid trip to the 3rd International Conference on Nutrition and HIV Infection in Cannes, France, in April 1999 in return for writing at least 30 prescriptions for Serostim, according to the court filing. Stupak allegedly offered three New York City HIV/AIDS doctors -- identified only as "O," "G" and "W" in court papers -- the free trip for writing at least 10 additional prescriptions for Serostim (U.S. attorney's release, 12/15). Stupak, who left Serono in 2001, is charged with three counts of bribery and could be sentenced to 15 years in prison and required to pay $225,000 in fines, USA Today reports (Leinwand, USA Today, 12/15).
"When a pharmaceutical employee offers a doctor a kickback to prescribe a drug, that individual invades the trust between the doctor and the patient and deprives the patient of his right to have the doctor act in the patient's best interest in providing quality health care," U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan said (U.S. attorney's release, 12/15). Slavitt said Stupak was "ordered" by Serono to make the offers to the doctors and "was not acting on his own," according to USA Today (USA Today, 12/15). "[I]t's clear to everyone, including me, that this is principally an investigation of Serono, and that is just the first step in what will be a long process involving lots of people," Slavitt said. He added that Stupak has filed a civil lawsuit against Serono in U.S. District Court alleging that the company "did not live up to its obligations" to pay his legal expenses for the investigation, according to the Globe. A spokesperson for Serono said the company will not comment on legal matters, the Globe reports (Boston Globe, 12/16).