Fed Judge orders Novartis to face U.S. lawsuit over kickbacks to docs

United States District Court Justice Paul Gardepe has ruled that Uncle Sam may pursue its Federal lawsuit against the Swiss dru maker Novartis for paying multimillion dollar kickbacks to doctors to prescrive its drugs including a $9,750 dinner for three at a Japanese restairant.

The federal government’s lawsuit is one of two it filed in April 2013 against Novartis, seeking triple damages over alleged kickbacks to doctors.

The Government claimsthat Novartis caused Medicare and Medicaid to pay millions of dollars in reimbursements from 2002 to 2011 based on kickback-tainted claims for drugs such as Lotrel and Valturna to treat hypertension, and the diabetes drug Starlix.

They said these resulted from the East Hanover, New Jersey-based Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp unit having lavished hefty speaking fees on doctors to appear at thousands of sham programs that were merely “social occasions,” where little work got done.

Novartis spent over $65 million and conducted 38,000 speaker programs for Lotrel, Valturna and Starlix alone over a decade. One doctor was allegedly paid to speak at his own office eight times.

In the other Novartis case, U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon in August let the government pursue most claims over reimbursements for Myfortic and Exjade, respectively used by patients with kidney transplants and patients who get blood transfusions.The Lotrel, Valturna and Starlix case was originally brought in January 2011 by former Novartis sales representative Oswald Bilotta. On Tuesday, Gardephe let Bilotta pursue part of his own lawsuit, which raises additional claims.

Jeffrey Newman represents whistleblowers