WASHINGTON - Wyeth Pharmaceuticals has pleaded guilty to misbranding a drug that prevents the rejection of organ transplants and agreed to pay $490.9 million, the US Justice Department said Tuesday.
The $490.9 million will resolve Wyeth's criminal and civil liability stemming from the unlawful marketing of the prescription drug Rapamune for uses not approved as safe and effective by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
In 1999, Wyeth received approval from the FDA for Rapamune use in renal, or kidney, transplant patients. The immunosuppressive drug prevents the body's immune system from rejecting a transplanted organ.
Wyeth was accused of training its Rapamune sales force in the United States to promote the use of the drug in non-renal organ transplants and encouraged them to offer financial incentives to target all types of transplant patients to boost sales.
The FDA had not authorized the so-called "off-label" uses.
"This was a systemic, corporate effort to seek profit over safety. Companies that ignore compliance with FDA regulations will face criminal prosecution and stiff penalties," Sanford Coats, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma, said in a statement.
Wyeth pleaded guilty to a criminal a misbranding violation and has agreed to pay a criminal fine and forfeiture totaling $233.5 million, the Justice Department said.
The company, under a plea agreement that has been accepted by the U.S. District Court in Oklahoma City, also has agreed to pay a criminal fine of $157.58 million and forfeit assets of $76 million.
The government alleged that Wyeth also violated the False Claims Act, from 1998 through 2009, by promoting Papamune for unapproved purposes that resulted in false claims to government health-care programs.
U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer (IW 500/17), which acquired Wyeth in October 2009, highlighted the agreement was between Wyeth and the Department of Justice, all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
"Pfizer was not a subject or target of this matter, and cooperated fully with the government from the time it learned of this investigation in October 2009," the company said in an email to AFP.
Pfizer in December 2012 agreed to pay $55 million to settle U.S. government allegations that Wyeth promoted an acid-reflux drug, Protonix, for unapproved uses between February 2000 and June 2001.
Pfizer denied the allegations in that civil complaint.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2013