Tag Archives: Pfizer

Supreme Court on Pfizer’s Pharmaceutical Colonialism

Victims and families protest outside the courthouse in Kano, Nigeria, in 2008. Photo: AFP.

While the media was chewing over the Supreme Court’s gun decision earlier in the week, another significant action passed with little comment. That was the court’s refusal to throw out a case brought under the Alien Tort Statute on behalf of Nigerians whose children died or suffered terrible damage in a Pfizer drug experiment.

The case is of considerable importance, because so many drug companies have conducted tests of new medicine’s abroad in poor countries, using the residents as lab rats in what some have dubbed “pharmaceutical colonialism.” The BBC reports:

The US Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to take up a case examining whether drug giant Pfizer could be sued in an American court for allegedly conducting nonconsensual drug tests on 200 Nigerian children in 1996. The action allows the case to move toward a trial. Eleven of the children died, and many others were left blind, deaf, paralyzed, or brain-damaged, according to court documents.

At issue in the Supreme Court appeal was whether the surviving children and relatives of the children were entitled to file a lawsuit in New York seeking to hold Pfizer responsible. Usually, such a suit would be filed in Nigeria. Lawyers for the children complained that Nigerian judges are corrupt and that the US court system holds the only promise of justice.

The suit was filed under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), which empowers federal judges to hear civil lawsuits filed by non-US citizens for violations of the “law of nations.” Lawyers for Pfizer denied that the Nigeria experiments were conducted without the consent and knowledge of the children and their guardians. In addition, the lawyers argued that the children’s case should be thrown out of court because the alleged drug experiments are not the precise type of international law violation covered under the ATS. What made the high court appeal potentially significant is that the Supreme Court has declared that foreign plaintiffs may rely on the ATS to file lawsuits, but only in a few limited circumstances. The high court has not yet identified precisely which few cases may be brought and which may not.

For those interested in reading more on this grim subject, this long piece that appeared in Der Spiegel back in 2007 provides details on the Pfizer case. Sonia Shah’s 2006 book The Body Hunters uncovers other unethical drug trials throughout the developing world. And if you’re looking for some timely summer reading, John Le Carre’s 2001 book The Constant Gardener reimagines the story as a thriller, with Big Pharma cast as one of the leading villains of the post-Cold War world–which, of course, they are.

Pfizer: Enemy of the People

Last summer and fall the drugsters were falling all over each other, backslapping about what a wonderful bunch of guys work at Big Pharma. By promising to pony up billions to help Obama put his health reform together, they were being so, you know,  all for the community.

They failed to mention reports of how big Pfizer was happily raking in tons of cash while it was raising prices. And now, USA Today says that contrary to publc opinion, Pfizer was working against the legislation, not for it. Read this:

Drugmaker Pfizer‘s political action committee gave less last year, but the analysis shows that nearly 60% of the money it donated to members of Congress during the first 11 months of 2009 went to lawmakers who voted against the health care bills. 

Florida Rep. Allen Boyd, a fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrat who opposed the House health care bill, received more money from Pfizer’s PAC last year than any other lawmaker. The Blue Dog Coalition was a key voting bloc in last year’s health care debate and helped force limits on a government-run insurance option to which many heath industry groups objected.Boyd spokesman Christopher Cashman said the congressman receives “broad and diverse” financial support and “bases his vote on how the policy will impact the people of North Florida and our country as a whole.”

Pfizer spokeswoman Kristen Neese told USA Today the company “is a longtime supporter of health care reform” and PAC contributions should “not be viewed as representative of one issue.”

Yeh. Right

How We Pay for Pharma’s Crooked Dealings

As everyone knows by now, the main reason we can’t get a health reform bill enacted is because the phamaceutical and insurance industries aren’t happy with their piece of the action. This despite the fact that when politicians talk about cutting costs, what they really have in mind is cutting services to us so these two big industries can enhance their profitability.

One of the reasons the drug makers need additional revenue is because their employee whistleblowers have screwed up the nerve to report the crooked deals they witness happening every day. “I was trained to do things and did things that were blatantly illegal,” David Franklin, a Parke-Davis whistle-blower, told the Boston Globe in 2003. “I knew my job was to falsely gain physicians’ trust and trade on my graduate degree. If he was a cardiologist, I was an expert in cardiology. If he was a neurologist, I was an expert in neurology.”

That whistleblower exposure can lead to multi million payouts in damages to injured patients as well as for fines due to legal violations. And under the False Claims Act,whistleblowers themselves stand to make millions of dollars for turning in the crooks.

Of course, in the end run, we will be paying for drug company malfeasance in the form of higher prices. And when it comes to health care reform, we will be paying for their creeped out dealings in the form of reduced medical care–especially Medicare—-negotiated by our representatives in the interests of fiscal restraint.

None of this would be happening were it not for the greed of Big Pharma, pressure from Wall Street for higher profits, and lack of federal regulation.

In early November the Indiannapolis Star ran down some of the big payouts by the drugsters.

In January, Eli Lilly and Co. agreed to pay $1.4 billion to settle charges it illegally promoted its antipsychotic drug, Zyprexa, for unapproved uses. Nine whistle-blowers, former Lilly employees, split about $100 million of the settlement as their reward.

In September, Pfizer said it would pay $2.3 billion to settle charges that it illegally promoted numerous drugs, including the painkiller Bextra. Six whistle-blowers split about $102 million.

In October, AstraZeneca reached a $520 million agreement to settle investigations into illegal marketing of its psychiatric drug, Seroquel. Several whistle-blowers will split an undisclosed amount of money.

And last week, in a courtroom in Trenton, N.J., the latest case began, as a former sales worker at Janssen (owned by Johnson & Johnson) testified she was fired in 2004 for complaining about what she considered pressure to illegally promote the antipsychotic drug Risperdal for unapproved uses.

Meanwhile, more than 1,000 active whistle-blower cases are backlogged at the Department of Justice, and about 200 of them deal with drug companies.

Of the top 20 False Claims Act cases, measured by the amount of money recovered, 12 involved judgments or settlements against pharmaceutical companies, accounting for billions of dollars in recoveries.

None of the fines or settlements resulting from these cases will mar the profitability of Big Pharma, which consistently ranks as one of the top two or three most profitable industries in the United States in Fortune 500 rankings. In 2008, according to Fortune, profits of the top 10 drugmakers alone came to $50 billion–and that, of course, is after the huge payouts to corporate executives.

Let Them Eat Zoloft

As the Senate takes up health care reform, we’re sure to be treated to yet more scenes of our elected officials bending over backwards to kiss the gold-plated butts of the pharmaceutical and insurance industries. So far, just about every new turn in the health care battle is confirming what many have known for some time: The U.S. health care system is run largely for the benefit of these corporate giants, rather than of the American people, and no piece of legislation is likely to change that fact.

But to fully appreciate the license these industries have been given to run roughshod over the public interest, you have to take a trip to Connecticut. The state is a longtime home base for the insurance industry, with 72 companies and the nation’s highest concentrion of insurance jobs. It also has more than its share of drug and biotech companies. (What luck then, for these industries, that the man who appears to hold a swing vote on health care reform is their own Senator Joe Lieberman, who has enjoyed enormous financial support from the insurance companies and a pretty penny from Big Pharma, as well.) 

While Connecticut may be loyal to its health care companies, the opposite is certainly not true. This week the giant drugmaker Pfizer sent shock waves across the state when it announced its decision to shut down its huge research facility in New London. While some workers will be transferred to a facility in a nearby town, the closure represents a devastating loss of industry and tax base for this working-class coastal city. It also marks the disintegration of an elaborate publically financed urban development scheme that began a decade ago.

After the closure of a  naval installation in the mid-1990s left New London in desperate straits, Pfizer swept in with promises to revitalize the city with a state-of-the-art R & D headquarters. To serve the company’s interests, the state government decided to use eminent domain to seize private property, uproot residents, and destroy a neighborhood in order to revamp the surrounding area. The state’s won the right to do so in a landmark Supreme Court case. But it built nothing on the vacated land. And now Pfizer, as the Wall Street Journal put it, has decided to “bug out.” One local resident told the New York Times, “They stole our home for economic development. It was all for Pfizer, and now they get up and walk away.”

Here’s how Jeff Benedict, a Connecticut lawyer and author of a book on the land grab, described the situation an op-ed in the Hartford Courant:

Consider the bitter pill that Pfizer Inc. slipped New London this week. Barely a decade after constructing a $300 million research and development headquarters in the city, the pharmaceutical giant announced it was shutting down the facility. Just like that, New London will lose 1,400 jobs and become home to a gigantic, vacant office park that sprawls over a 24-acre campus.

Never mind that an entire residential neighborhood was bulldozed by New London to change the look of a 90-acre landscape around the Pfizer campus. And never mind that along the way the city used eminent domain to drive out homeowners and then fought a costly eight-year legal battle against holdouts Susette Kelo and her neighbors that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Fifth Amendment has always allowed government to take private property for public use. But in its most universally despised decision in decades, the court upheld the takings in New London by equating public benefits — the promise of increased tax revenues and new jobs — with public use.

In other words, the potential of a massive redevelopment scheme anchored by the arrival of Pfizer’s facility justified evicting homeowners who stood in the way of progress. There’s just one stubborn fact: It’s been four years since the infamous Kelo ruling and the city hasn’t gotten a thing built on the 90 acres it now controls.

After all the shouting, the developer ran out of money and the city has zero prospective replacements. Barren weed fields are all that exist where homes once stood.

According to the Times, Pfizer said it was pulling out of New London and consolidating its operations as a “cost-cutting measure.” As the AP reported last month, Pfizer has managed to boost its profits this year despite the recession by “slashing costs on everything from manufacturing and marketing to research and development” and cutting 6,500 jobs. In the immediate future, AP notes:

Pfizer will keep cutting costs, now that it has completed the biggest drug industry deal of the year. The $68 billion acquisition of Wyeth last Thursday cements Pfizer’s position atop the industry, and the combined company is expected to eliminate nearly 20,000 jobs by the time integration is complete.

Let’s put all this “cost cutting” in further context. Pfizer’s profits in 2008 were $8.1 billion. The drugmaker ranked 11th on the Fortune 500’s list of most profitable companies, and also made Fortune’s list of “biggest winners,” described as “20 firms [that] managed to make money…even as the economy crumbled.” Wyeth’s 2008 profits were over $4 billion, so the acquisition is guaranteed to keep Pfizer in gravy, despite the $2.3 billion in criminal penalties it recently agreed to pay for illegally promiting off-label use of its drugs, in the largest health care fraud settlement in the history of the U.S. Justice Department. Residents of New London and other locales abandoned by the company may also be interested to know that Pfizer CEO Jeff Kindler’s 2008 compensation came to a cool $14.8 million–up 17 percent from the year before.

In other words, Pfizer’s determination to slash costs and eliminate thousands of jobs in the midst of a recession is motivated by nothing but sheer greed. This is business as usual for the pharmaceutical companies, which exist to serve the interests of their executives and shareholders, not the public–and will be just as ruthless as we allow them to be. 

Yet this lesson seems to have bypassed many of our elected officials, who persist in pretending that the drug companies can be their “partners” in health care reform, rather than their adversaries. In the rest of the industrialized world, they seem to have grasped the notion that it’s the government’s job to make sure the private health care industry doesn’t gouge the public. These governments do their job by imposing stiff regulation on these companies, far beyond anything that we will see in the current health reform.

Here, the drug companies are so used to getting their way that they are indignant when anyone in government finds the gumption to stand up to them at all. This morning, the LA Times reports that Big Pharma is protesting parts of the House reform bill, which it sees as violating the secret deal it made last summer with the White House. The paper reports that “senior administration officials, including White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, are warning members of Congress not to antagonize the deep-pocketed industry at a time when a major victory appears to be within reach, according to Democratic aides.”

Although they will probably get their way in the end, the drug companies are pissed off at the Democrats because they think they’ve been double-crossed. It’s a feeling that that’s no doubt well known to the residents of New London, Connecticut.

Big Pharma Is Big Winner in Health Care Fight

Bloomberg has a rundown on winners and losers to date in the health reform fight. The pharmaceutical companies come out on top, with labs and health insurers close behind. Winners so far:

DRUGMAKERS: New York-based Pfizer and other pharmaceutical companies overcame attempts to torpedo a deal they made with Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus and Obama that limits their contribution to the overhaul to $80 billion over 10 years. Baucus joined with all the panel’s Republicans and Democrats Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Thomas Carper of Delaware to uphold the agreement with the drug companies. London-based AstraZeneca Plc has its U.S. headquarters in Delaware, while Menendez represents Whitehouse Station, New Jersey-based Merck & Co., among other companies. … “If you look at drug spending over the next 10 years, it will be something like $4 trillion,” said Uwe Reinhardt, a Princeton University economist who specializes in health care. “Well, $80 billion out of $4 trillion; what a bargain.”

LABORATORIES: Quest Diagnostics Inc., Laboratory Corp. of America Holdings and Celera Corp. escaped $700 million in annual industry fees proposed by Baucus. Before the committee began work, the Montana Democrat shifted that assessment to health insurers, bringing the total fees to $6.7 billion for an industry led by Minnetonka, Minnesota-based UnitedHealth Group Inc. and Indianapolis-based WellPoint. Madison, New Jersey-based Quest, Burlington, North Carolina-based LabCorp and Alameda, California-based Celera would also benefit from provisions in all of the committees that encourage greater use of disease screening. And increased preventive care may boost providers as a whole. …

HOSPITALS: Community Health Systems of Franklin, Tennessee, Nashville, Tennessee-based HCA Inc. and hospitals across the nation may end up winners after a deal in which they pledged $155 billion in cost savings largely survived. As part of that agreement, payments for taking care of charity cases would be reduced only if certain insurance- coverage levels are met, insulating hospitals, said Paul Heldman, senior health-policy analyst at the Potomac Research Group in Washington.

Viva Big Pharma

viagra-missile_thumbnailRegardless of what happens from here on out, the current health care reform clearly will offer no significant challenge to Big Pharma, which year after year rates among the top two or three most profitable industries in the world. This leaves the drug manufacturers free to carry out their vital, life-saving work. One example of that work appears today on John Mack’s highly informative Pharma Marketing Blog:

A Long Island man infringed on Pfizer’s trademark by towing a 20-foot replica missile with ‘Viva Viagra’ painted on its side through midtown Manhattan, eventually parking it in front of the drugmaker’s 42nd Street headquarters, a federal judge ruled.

This story dates back to last year, when a couple of guys from the Island came up with the rather kooky idea of using decommissioned military ordinance as an advertising medium. According to their web site, their company, Jet Angel, “takes the target marketing capabilities of mobile billboards and adds an experience for consumers to achieve the ultimate viewer captivation”—in other words, everyone is guaranteed to look at a giant missile being towed through the streets.

Apparently seeking to prove this claim, they emblazoned a missile with the slogan from Pfizer’s grotesque “Viva Viagra” ads, drove it around Manhattan, and hung out for a while in front of the drugmaker’s corporate headquarters. They followed up with an email to Pfizer:

Jet Angel hopes that you enjoyed yesterday’s visit to NYC including all your free PR. It is the intention to make a second trip next week, with the VIAGRA Missile, and ‘riding’ on top will be two models handing out free condoms!

LOOK AT ALL THE PEOPLE STARRING, THE JOY, THE IMPRESSIONS!!!!

Pfizer quickly sued the missile-launchers. (When the court issued a preliminary injunction, the feisty guys at Jet Angel returned to Pfizer HQ with the missile repainted to say “CENSORED BY A FEDERAL COURT.”) A spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog that the company felt it was “important to protect the integrity of our medicines.” Apparently, Pfizer believed the “integrity” of the pioneering boner drug, which had weathered the company’s own creepy advertising campaigns (not to mention ED spokesmodel Bob Dole) would be harmed by what John Mack called the “erectile projectile.” The court agreed, and has now ruled in Pfizer’s favor, saying “Defendants’ midday sojourn with a missile to Pfizer’s world headquarters traded on the fame and reputation of Viagra.”

Big Pharma has long claimed that it has to charge high prices for its products so that it can continue its research and development work, discovering new drugs that will save lives and serve humanity. In fact, as Marcia Angell and others have thoroughly documented, a larger percentage of the industry’s revenues goes to profits than to R&D–and an even larger portion goes to “marketing and administration,” which includes not only myriad campaigns to promote costly drugs, but also legal fees to launch ridiculous lawsuits like this one. 

In other words, every time you buy a Pfizer drug, the company puts a fraction of the proceeds toward defending its reputation against things like penis-shaped missiles on wheels. And there’s nothing in the current health care reform that will throw that mission off course.

The Bipartisan Bull on Health Care Reform: Three Ex-Senators Get It Up for the Health Care Industry

home-leadersBar-3

Photo from Bipartisan Policy Center web site

As it hammers another nail into the coffin of meaningful health care reform, the Bipartisan Policy Center is laying it on thick. “Join Howard Baker, Tom Daschle and Bob Dole as they unveil their bipartisan plan for comprehensive health reform,” its web site crows, referring to a press conference that took place last week. There, the three former Senator majority leaders presented a proposal touted as “the culmination of an inclusive year-and-a-half effort that included strategic outreach to key health care stakeholders, a series of state-based public policy forums, and months of personal deliberations by the Leaders.”

Note the capital “L,” emphasizing the stature of the project’s distinguished figureheads. To drive home the momentous import of these men and their mission, the BPC is also running a video that has to be seen to be believed: Over a montage of Dorothea Lange-style black and white photos, it notes such national achievements as the eradication of child labor, polio, and racial segregation, before getting to the money shot: “Our party lines aren’t as important as what we can fix when we cross them,” the title card reads. “Let’s fix health care next.”

It’s all almost enough to make you forget that these three illustrious men are also well-paid corporate hacks, who have raked in funds from the private health care industry. And it might even distract a few people from the fact that the most noteworthy element of their celebrated “plan” is the complete absence of anything that might actually change the health care system in this country, including anything resembling a public option for health care coverage.

In the unlikely event that anyone thought Tom Daschle had an ounce of integrity running through his veins, this latest move ought to put that notion to rest. (We should all thank our lucky stars that the man is a tax evader, or  he’d be our HHS secretary and “health czar,” and we’d be in even worse shape than we are now.) After the BPC plan was released last week, Daschle made his excuses:

While I feel very strongly that consumers should have the choice of a national, Medicare-like plan, my colleagues do not. . . But we were concerned that the ongoing health reform debate is beginning to show signs of fracture on the public plan issue, so in order to advance the process of developing bipartisan legislation and to move it forward, it’s time to find consensus here….We’ve come too far and gained too much momentum for our efforts to fail over disagreements on one single issue.

Never mind that the “single issue” is the only one that stood to make even a minor dent in the nation’s system of medicine-for-profit. The Obama administration, caught once again in the net of its own bipartisan rhetoric, duly praised the man who had just stabbed them in the back: “With this report, they have demonstrated what can be achieved with bipartisan effort,” said Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. “The Bipartisan Policy Center has produced a significant report, and the White House applauds their efforts.”

As part of his earlier efforts to paint himself a reformer on this issue, Daschle wrote a book on the health care crisis called Critical. In the book, he supports some form of a public option to compete with private insurers, and also proposes a Federal Reserve-style “Federal Health Board.” “Like monetary policy,” he wrote, “health-care policy shouldn’t be subject to the whims of subcommittee chairmen and special interests.” How much better, instead, to have the special interests represented not by lowly “subcommittee chairmen,” but by a former Senate majority leader—or three.

And that’s just what’s happened here. All three of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s “Leaders” on health care reform have longstanding associations with law/lobbying firms that number health care companies among their clients. At least two of them have also profited by direct payments from the industry.

In Daschle and Dole’s case, the firm is Alston & Bird, which represents numerous health care providers, pharmaceutical companies, and nursing homes. Neither is a registered lobbyist, but that’s a fairly meaningless distinction in today’s Washington. Alston & Bird’s web site proudly advertises:

Our health care legislative and policy team has the significant advantage of including two former U.S. Senate majority leaders–Senators Bob Dole and Tom Daschle–both resident in our Washington office and champions of many health care issues in their Senate Finance Committee and leadership roles.

The site also brags of the firm’s “proven track record of achieving policy success, as well as protecting the interest of clients,” which include smoothing the progress of drug and medical device approvals, securing higher payment rates from Medicare, and “garner[ing] positive legislative changes”—in other words, changing laws to benefit the private companies it serves.

At the time of his failed nomination for HSS secretary, the New York Times reported that Daschle’s financial disclosures showed $2.1 million in earnings from Alston & Bird in the previous two years, as well “at least $220,000 for speeches to health care, pharmaceutical and insurance companies. He also received nearly $100,000 from health-related companies affected by federal regulation.”

Bob Dole had to work a little harder for his handouts from health care corporations. In 1999, Dole famously did a round of TV commercials confessing that Bob Dole had erectile dysfunction, and that Bob Dole encouraged other men in a similar predicament to consult with their doctors. The ads were framed like public service announcements, but Dole was paid an “undisclosed amount” by Pfizer, manufacturer of the billion-dollar boner pill Viagra.

In 2005, Dole was back on Pfizer’s payroll, promoting the new Medicare prescription drug plan, the government’s mammoth handout to insurance and pharmaceutical companies. Dole did a national “educational” speaking tour, funded by Pfizer, where he presented the “Ten Things Seniors Need to Know about Medicare’s New Prescription Drug Coverage.”

Howard Baker earned his money from the health care industry in somewhat more understated ways. His law firm, Baker Donelson, has defended HMOs, hospitals, and physicians practice management companies against litigation of various kinds, and also helps them fight unionization by health care workers. Until recently, one of the lobbyists working for Baker Donelson was Tom Daschle’s wife Linda, whose conflicts of interest are legion.

The Bipartisan Policy Center itself also has a network of ties to the health care industry, as detailed by Sam Stein on the Huffington Post. On its tax forms, the BPC identified drug manufacturer Schering-Plough as a “substantial contributor”; it is also one of 16 members of the organization’s “Leader’s Council.” The co-director of the BPC’s health care project is Chris Jennings, a former Clinton White House staffer whose company, Jennings Policy Strategies, “has earned millions of dollars in lobbying fees from companies with interests in the health care debate,” including several members of Big Pharma, Stein reports.

Asked about any “non-negotiable” elements in the health care reform proposal he helped draft for the BPC, Bob Dole said: “If you want to stop this thing dead in its tracks, or dead on arrival, in my view you put the public plan in it.”

And if you want to make sure the public plan dead is DOA, just put the likes of Dole, Daschle, and Baker on the case.