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Pfizer sued for off-label Lipitor marketing

A former Pfizer official accuses the company of illegally boosting sales of its top-selling drug Lipitor through misleading medical educational programmes for doctors

A former Pfizer official has accused the company of illegally boosting sales of its top-selling drug Lipitor (atorvastatin) through misleading medical educational programmes for doctors.

The allegations against Pfizer concern continuing medical-education programmes for doctors, which are often sales pitches for "off-label" uses of drugs.

Dr Jesse Polansky, claims that the educational campaign was a key part of a marketing strategy which persuaded thousands of doctors to prescribe Lipitor for millions of patients who did not need the drug and could have been harmed as a result.

The lawsuit was filed in US District Court for the Eastern District of New York in February 2004. Pfizer was served a copy of the suit on 19 December, according to Dr Polansky's lawyer, Steve Berman of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro.

Pfizer said in a statement: "We believe this case has no meritÖPfizer does not condone the off-label promotion of our products. We believe that our sales and marketing practices are solely based on our prescription information as approved by the FDA."

Polansky was Pfizer's director of outcomes management strategies from 2001 to 2003. As part of his role, he reviewed some of the marketing materials for Lipitor and other Pifzer products.

Polansky claims Pfizer fired him when he complained about marketing he considered to be improper. He now works as the senior medical officer for Medicare in a unit that investigates fraud and abuse at the big government health insurer.

The suit seeks compensation for Polansky as a whistleblower. Federal laws in the US mean he could win a share of money recovered for any overpayments made by federal health-insurance programmes.

The lipid-lowering drug Lipitor is the world's biggest-selling treatment and racked up FY06 sales of USD 13.6bn, according to IMS Health data.

20th December 2007

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