Company fraudulently paid pharmacies to switch patients onto its drugs, government claims

Novartis has used illegal payments to induce pharmacies to switch kidney transplant patients onto its immunosuppressant drug Myfortic (mycophenolate sodium), a US government lawsuit alleges.

Novartis disputes the claims and confirmed in a statement that it will defend itself in the case.

The complaint filed by the US Attorney’s Office lists several cases in which the government claims Novartis paid pharmacies to persuade patients or their doctors to switch prescriptions in favour of Myfortic, rather than competitor drugs or cheaper generic versions.

Novartis deliberately disguised these payments as ‘performance rebates and discounts’, the government claims. Preet Bharara, the attorney leading the suit, said in a statement: ‘Novartis co-opted the independence of certain pharmacists and turned them into salespeople for one of its drugs.’ He added: ‘Novartis, as we allege, is a repeat offender, having settled healthcare fraud charges based on kickbacks less than three years ago.’

The suit alleges that Novartis’s actions cost the US government tens of millions of dollars, as many patients are eligible to reclaim the costs for Myfortic under the US Medicare and Medicaid programmes.