Compliance News in Review, November 2, 2015

The first corporate criminal bribery settlement under the UK Bribery Act is announced, a Biomet rep files a retaliation suit under the False Claims Act, Novartis settles with the DOJ, Warner Chilcott pleads guilty in a kickback case, and Valeant legal concerns continue to grow.

Here a pumpkin, there a pumpkin, everywhere a pumpkin…or pumpkin spice to be more specific. Seems like there is pumpkin spice version everything these days. That may not be a bad thing though, since according to news reports, a shortage of canned pumpkin may lead to a shortage of pies. The horror! Just in case, better to stock up on those Pumpkin Spice Oreos and Pumpkin Spice Twinkies in the meantime. Happily, there is no shortage of “spicy” compliance stories here at the News in Review, so let’s get this edition cooking!

Something spicy and significant is brewing in Scotland, with regulators announcing the first corporate criminal bribery offence settlement under the Bribery Act. Brand-Rex, a mid-size Scottish cabling systems company, admitted it had failed to prevent an associated person from committing bribery, and agreed to pay £212,800 as confiscation for the benefit gained from the action. The company operated an incentive program for its distributors, and one of its independent distributors offered travel tickets received through the program to a purchasing decision-maker to influence a purchasing decision. Brand-Rex discovered the bribery through an internal audit, and self-disclosed its findings to the authorities. Since the company cooperated with the investigation, it avoided criminal prosecution.

A former Biomet sales representative claims he was not treated gingerly by the company. The rep filed the suit under the anti-retaliation provision of the New York False Claims Act, claiming retaliation by the company after he reported the kickback concerns. According to the rep, he was harassed for 13 months before eventually being fired.

Novartis has carved out a settlement in principle with the DOJ, in a whistleblower case involving the company’s relationship with specialty pharmacies. The agreement will include a settlement of $390 million, and CIA obligations.

Warner Chilcott has agreed to pay $125 million and will plead guilty to a felony charge of healthcare fraud. According to the government, the company paid kickbacks to physicians, manipulated insurance companies to pay for prescriptions, and made unsubstantiated claims about its drugs. The company’s former president was arrested for conspiring to pay kickbacks to physicians, and several physicians and district managers face charges in connection with the case.

The stroll through the pumpkin patch has not been pleasant for Valeant lately. The company was subpoenaed by two US Attorney’s offices to provide documents related to its pricing policies, and its patient assistance and financial support programs. Then Valeant was accused in a report by short-seller, Citron, of creating phantom sales through its relationships with specialty-pharmacies. Citron compared Valeant to Enron in the report. Valeant stock prices took a serious tumble following the report, and led to shareholders filing suit against the company. Lawyers for the shareholders are seeking class action status for the suit.

Orange you glad when friends come to bat for you? (See what we did there – pumpkins are orange, so we said, orange you glad…oh never mind.) A couple of industry groups have done just that for Pacira Pharmaceuticals in its suit against the FDA. PhRMA and a consortium of industry companies known as the Medical Information Working Group (MIWG) have filed Amicus briefs with the court in support of Pacira’s First Amendment case against the FDA. Pacira received a Warning Letter, which has since been de-published by the FDA, over truthful off-label promotion of one of its drugs. The company subsequently filed suit against the agency. The letter from the MIWG points out that promotional speech is protected speech under the First Amendment under the Sorrell v. IMS decision, and the off-label use of drugs is common and often the medical standard of care.

While the topics in this edition of the Compliance News in Review may be varied, they all highlight the need for companies to establish a strong ethical culture. As we saw in the story from Scotland, having procedures in place to identify misconduct is an important first step, but having the courage to bring the evidence of misconduct to authorities is critical as well. Creating an environment in which individuals can report suspect actions without fear of reprisal is paramount.

Have a great week everyone!

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