Supreme Court refuses to block Pfizer suits

The U.S. Supreme Court Monday rejected a request from pharmaceutical giant Pfizer to head off a slew of lawsuits targeting off-label use of one of its drugs.

Healthcare insurers had sued Pfizer under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, better known as RICO. Under the law an enterprise is liable if it commits a number of "predicate acts."

The act is normally used against organized crime but it also has a number of civil applications.

Pfizer is being sued for marketing the pain management drug Neurontin "for off-label uses for which it is allegedly ineffective."

In one case, Pfizer Inc. vs. Kaiser Foundation Health Plan Inc., Pfizer already lost a verdict awarding $142 million in damages, SCOTUSBLOG.com reported..

And because of the off-label campaign, Pfizer and its predecessors were fined $430 million in a U.S. Justice Department case.

Following the Justice Department action, insurers sued Pfizer under RICO, saying the company had persuaded doctors to prescribe the drug for off-label uses and caused insurers to pay for it. Despite the $142 million award in the Kaiser case, a number of other suits were dismissed in U.S. District Court.

However, the federal appeals court in Boston upheld the verdict and reversed the dismissals.

In opposing Supreme Court review, a Kaiser brief said Pfizer "strategically conducted a decade-long, multifaceted fraud to make Neurontin a blockbuster drug. Pfizer originally estimated that Neurontin would earn $500 million in revenues from uses approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Through a methodical campaign of fraudulent off-label marketing, however, Pfizer transformed a niche drug into a $10 billion juggernaut, leading Pfizer's own national sales team to deem it 'the snake oil of the twentieth century.'"