Friday the 13th Brings Multiple Settlements for One Unlucky Company

CMS posts new Open Payments thresholds, MedTech Europe revises its Code, California deals with two new pharmaceutical laws, and multiple settlements are announced for one “unlucky” pharmaceutical company…in this Friday the 13th edition of the Compliance News in Review.

Be careful what you wish for, Freaky Friday (a.k.a. Friday the 13th) has arrived. Steer clear of those sidewalk cracks, black cats, and broken mirrors! We prefer to focus more on the “Friday” part of the date stamp rather than the “13th.” Whether you’re working for the weekend, or just counting down the minutes until it officially begins, we offer the latest edition of the Compliance News in Review to help you whittle away the hours until the superstitions have subsided.

Change doesn’t have to always be scary. MedTech Europe, a joint venture of EucoMed and European Diagnostic Manufacturers Association, changed its Code of Ethical Business Practice. Changes include the phasing out of direct sponsorship for HCPs to attend medical conferences; enhanced transparency of educational grants; and new guidelines for demonstration products and samples. In addition, starting in 2018, members will only be able to provide educational grant support for meetings that have been vetted by the organization.

The “lucky” numbers for the Open Payments reporting thresholds for 2018 have been posted by CMS. The small payments, or de minimis threshold, was raised to $10.49, and the annual aggregate threshold was raised to $104.90.

California passed two new laws affecting the pharmaceutical industry. First, SB 17 requires health plans and insurers to report information about drug pricing. The information will be compiled into a report showing how drug pricing effects health insurance premiums. The law also requires drug manufacturers to notify purchasers 90 days in advance if a drug’s wholesale acquisition cost (WAC) is going to increase.

AB 265 prohibits prescription drug manufacturers from offering assistance to lower out of pocket costs, if a lower-cost generic equivalent drug is available. Exceptions include the discounts required under an FDA Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS); single-tablet drug regimens for the treatment of HIV or AIDS that are as effective as a multi-tablet regimen; and completion of step therapy or prior authorization requirements for a branded drug, as mandated by the individual’s health coverage.

Time to start throwing copious amounts of salt over the shoulder at Aegerion. The company pled guilty and pay over $35 million to settle criminal and civil charges that it violated the FDCA, HIPAA, and the False Claims Act. According to the Department of Justice, Aegerion did not follow the proper Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy when educating prescribers about the rare cholesterol condition its drug was approved to treat. The government also claimed the company filed a misleading REMS report and promoted the drug for the general treatment of high cholesterol, all in violation of the FDCA.

Aegerion also resolved civil charges it violated the False Claims Act. The company allegedly shared misleading information about its drug, altered or falsified statements of medical necessity or prior authorization to federal healthcare programs, and defrayed the copay obligations of patients in federal healthcare programs, which is a violation of the Anti-Kickback Statute.

Following the settlement, the patient assistance organization involved, Patient Services, Inc. (PSI), acknowledged it received a subpoena from the DOJ. PSI said it had cooperated with the government in the case. The organization said it operates “under guidelines set by the U.S. Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General and does not funnel funds for manufacturers.”

Some “strange magic” leads to a $13 million FCPA settlement for Alere to resolve charges it violated the FCPA. The company allegedly paid bribes to meet its revenue targets. According to the SEC, company subsidiaries in India and Colombia used distributors or consultants to make improper payments to foreign officials. The agency said the company failed to maintain adequate internal controls to prevent the payments and recorded the payments incorrectly.

With that, we close out this superstitious edition of the Compliance News in Review. Thanks for reading! Stay safe out there as you navigate the potholes and pitfalls that allegedly lurk in shadows, and no matter what, don’t walk under that ladder!

Compliance News in Review, September 22, 2017

Reprimands in the UK, opioid manufacturers face another investigatory group, and registration processes for Nevada representatives, all in this week’s Compliance News in Review.

Ready or not, Fall is here! Leaves are turning, football is back, the oppressive heat of Summer is fading, and pumpkin spice everything is available. We are certainly fans of Autumn here in the offices of the News in Review and we’re ready to break out the flannel shirts, boots, and maybe a knit cap to enjoy the cooler evenings ahead. We are also fans of compliance! So, grab a pumpkin spice latte and settle in to this edition of the Compliance News in Review.

A nip in the air, and a nip at the marketing practices of several companies by the ABPI. The industry organization reprimanded Pfizer, Novartis, Astellas UK, Astellas Europe, and TOR Generics for breaches of its Code. Pfizer and Novartis were both cited for misleading promotion, and unclear materials used by representatives. Astellas UK and Astellas Europe voluntarily admitted that prescribing information for several of their products omitted references to adverse events. Lastly, TOR Generics was accused of promoting an unlicensed product, which was expected to be a prescription-only product, in a public magazine.

A new team is investigating opioid marketing. 41 state attorneys general formed a coalition to investigate opioid manufacturers and distributors. The group subpoenaed several top manufacturers, and wholesale distributors Amerisource, Cardinal, and McKesson. The AGs want to know if manufacturers deceived healthcare professionals about product efficacy and addictiveness.

Time to turn over a new leaf in Nevada. The state published draft procedures for the registration of pharmaceutical representatives. Individuals who work in Nevada for at least five days a year and communicate with healthcare professionals, or participate in the activities listed below, must register with the state’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS):

  • Marketing of prescription drugs to healthcare providers, pharmacists or pharmacy employees, and employees of medical facilities
  • Meeting with healthcare providers to answer questions about product use and benefits, or to provide discussion and product information and resources to those providers or other decision makers while representing the manufacturer or supporting promotional efforts of the manufacturer
  • Distributing FDA regulated product samples and product information

These activities are excluded under the law:

  • Attending a conference in Nevada that is not exclusively marketed to Nevada healthcare professionals
  • Activities related to clinical trials, investigational drugs, or Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategies
  • Activities performed by wholesale distributors who do not represent a single manufacturer

Companies are required to notify DHHS as employees are hired and terminated, and employees must be registered with DHHS within 30 days of hire.

With that, we wrap up this edition of the Compliance News in Review and head outback to roast marshmallows and make smores! If you can’t join us by the fire pit, we’ll catch you back here for our next issue.

Thanks for reading!

Compliance News in Review, July 31, 2017

A whistleblower settlement, the effect of a recent cyberattack on one company’s drug supply, transparency in Ontario, and the growth of CME, all served for your approval in this edition of the Compliance News in Review.

It is the quintessential American food, even if it didn’t originate here; it’s the hamburger. Nothing beats a good burger, even during the hot dog days of summer (see what we did there?). The tasty entrée even inspired the bard of gulf and western music, Jimmy Buffet, to write a song extoling its virtues. So, how do you like your burger? With slaw? Kraut? Chili? Our mouths are watering just pondering the possibilities! Before we fire up the grill here at the News in Review World Headquarters, we’ll serve a tasty treat of a different flavor – the latest edition of the Compliance News in Review.

This is hardly minced meat. Celgene has agreed to pay $280 million to settle claims in a whistleblower suit that accused the company of promoting two of its cancer products for off-label purposes. The whistleblower, a former employee, claims the company directly marketed the drugs for the off-label uses and hid risks of blood clots from physicians. Celgene did not admit to wrongdoing in the settlement.

Still in a bit of pickle following the Petya cyberattack, Merck has warned that some drug supplies may be disrupted as it continues to rebound from the attack. The company’s R&D and manufacturing operations have not yet fully recovered and there may be temporary delays in filling orders for some products.

Ontario doctors may be flipping over a recent judicial decision that will allow the payments they receive from the government insurance program to be published. The Toronto Star filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the names of the top 100 billers. The Ontario Health Ministry refused to provide the names, saying it would be an invasion of privacy. Two doctor groups and the Ontario Medical Association also fought the release of names, arguing that doing so “accomplishes nothing other than naming and shaming.” The judges disagreed, saying the “public is entitled to information in the possession of their governments so that the public may, among other things, hold their governments accountable.”

The Accreditation Council of Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) 2016 report on the growth of CME finds an increase in the number of events (7%), as well as an increase in the number of instructional hours (9%). The study also shows the number of activities and interactions has increased steadily since 2010. ACCME President and CEO, Dr. Graham McMahon, noted that there are currently more than 3,000 hours of CME available to healthcare providers.

That brings us to the end of another “well done” edition of the Compliance News in Review. We’ll see you right back here for the next summertime treatise, and in the meantime, we leave you with a few tips for barbecuing the perfect burger (olive oil…who knew?).

Have a great week!

Compliance News in Review, June 13, 2017

States with new laws, lawsuits and more; HHS says drug pricing is a top issue; the AMA takes aim at DTC ads again; and transparency efforts and more from Europe…all in this edition of the Compliance News in Review.

The magic, mystery, and “monstering” of the summer movies season is in full swing! From super-heroes to lush gothic tales, there’s something for everyone this summer. There’s nothing like escaping to the theater on a rainy summer day. Can’t you just smell the popcorn and taste the Milk Duds? Before you head off to take in the latest blockbuster or art house feature, silence your cell phone and enjoy this screening of the latest edition of the Compliance News in Review.

We begin with a trilogy of compelling releases. The Nevada legislature passed a bill that would have required makers of diabetes drugs to report drug pricing information to the State. The bill was forwarded to the governor, who promptly vetoed it. Undaunted, State senators revised the bill; removing the requirements to which the governor objected and adding provisions that apply to all drug manufacturers. It was passed, and in an ending fit for Hollywood, the governor has said he is “proud to sign” the new bill. The law will require manufacturers to report pricing for diabetes drugs, and all manufacturers must now supply a list of sales representatives who work in the State. Additionally, all transfers of value from Nevada sales representative to HCPs must be reported each year, including those to mid-level practitioners and office staff.

It’s a wrap on a new law concerning generic drug pricing in Maryland. Generic drug makers will now be fined when a price increase causes a product’s wholesale acquisition price (WAC) to increase by more than 50% in one year, or if the drug’s WAC is greater than $80. Maryland’s expressed concern that the bill did not address the cost of patented drugs and devices, and that it may result in citizens not having access to some generic drugs. Concerns aside, the governor did not veto the bill. The law will go into effect October 1.

The Washington D.C. Department of Health has posted several FAQs related to AccessRx. The FAQs cover a variety of issues including reporting timelines, advertising expenses, and gift reporting.

HHS Secretary, Dr. Tom Price, says drug pricing is a coming attraction for the agency. In testimony before the senate budget committee, Price said the president has directed him to develop proposals to lower drug costs. He also said meetings with stakeholders have already taken place.

This attraction is rated “P” for pricing. At the AMA’s annual meeting, the group will consider a proposal urging drug manufacturers to list drug prices in DTC ads. The proposal was introduced by several New England medical societies, and advocates who have been pushing federal agencies, such as the Federal Trade Commission and the FDA, to compel drug companies to include retail pricing information in DTC ads. The proposal will need to be approved by the American Medical Association’s House of Delegates before being presented to the larger body.

From the foreign film division, a story of transparency. German doctors will be able to voluntarily disclose payments they receive from drug companies in a database managed by the non-profit journalism group, Correctiv. According to a study conducted by Correctiv, 71,000 German doctors received 575 million Euros worth of payments from the industry last year. The study also found that only 29% of doctors were willing to have their payment information published.

Two companies have been publicly reprimanded for breaches of the ABPI Code of Practice. In one case, a media agency published the work it did for the company to promote the agency’s creative capabilities. The work was out-of-date and no longer accurate. Even though the company did not give the agency permission to publish the work, and voluntarily reported the incident, it was found to have violated Clause 2 of the Code of Practice; bringing discredit upon and reducing confidence in the industry. In the other breach, another company was reprimanded for distributing a patient support leaflet with inaccurate and misleading information. The company was asked to issue a corrective statement to the healthcare providers who had already received the leaflet.

The last story is a good reminder of the importance of making sure your compliance training extends to vendors and other third parties. In bribery cases, we see the damage that can be caused when third parties run afoul of laws and regulations. Vendors and other third parties need to be evaluated for the risk associated with their services and targeted training should be provided based on that risk.

With that, we roll the closing credits on this edition of the Compliance News in the Review. Thanks for reading. We’ll see you at the movies!

Compliance News in “Preview”

As we wistfully wish 2016 a fond farewell, we welcome 2017 and wonder what compliance surprises, developments, and news the year might hold. What will be the hot topics debated around the water cooler in your office? The team at the Compliance News in Review has dusted off its crystal ball once again and we offer a few suggestions on what we see as the hot topics for 2017.

Drug Pricing Transparency

Drug pricing was at the top of the list in 2016. CEOs were brought before Congressional panels to explain exorbitant price hikes, and in several states, laws were proposed that will companies to disclose factors related to drug pricing for certain drugs. Vermont was the only state to pass such legislation, but California has reintroduced the bill for this session. The federal government also got in on the act with a bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate. While some of the fervor has quieted, we don’t think we’ve heard the last of pricing transparency. The passage of Vermont’s law could be the catalyst other states need to get their own laws passed.

Off-label Guidance/Revised Regulations

We don’t expect to see new guidance or regulations in 2017, but the FDA did at least start a conversation with the industry in 2016. A two-day meeting with stakeholders in November resulted in a list of diverse statements and opinions from companies, the medical community, and patient groups. The meeting with stakeholders was a step in the right direction, but a few high-profile cases (Caronia, Amarin, and Pacira) that resulted in wins for the industry, only led to more confusion and questions. We are cautiously optimistic that the FDA will at least continue the conversation and somewhat clarify the regulations.

Warning Letters and Notice of Violation Letters

The FDA’s Office of Prescription Drug Promotion (OPDP) wasn’t very active in 2016…until December, that is. At the end of the year, the agency made up for lost time by sending six letters for non-compliance with drug promotion regulations, signaling (in our humble opinion) a more aggressive approach in 2017. Most of the letters that were sent in December were related to the use of digital media.

Bribery and Corruption Enforcement

In 2016, several companies settled with the Department of Justice over Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) violations. Most notable was a $500 million plus settlement with Teva that occurred near the end of the year. We expect to see more settlements this year, with half a dozen life sciences companies already under investigation for FCPA violations, according to the most recent Corporate Investigations List on the FCPA Blog. One wonders if the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) will join the trend as well and pursue more UK Bribery Act cases now that the agency has dipped its feet into the pool of U.S.-style Deferred Prosecution Agreements. We wouldn’t be surprised to see SFO dive right into the deep end.

The 2017 year in life sciences compliance looks to be an interesting one, and we’ll be tracking the news and headlines through our Compliance News in Review updates. Don’t forget to “follow” our blog so you don’t miss any news or our tips and best practices for building and deploying the compliance training you need to reduce risk and strengthen your compliance culture.

Thanks for reading and best wishes for a compliant and successful 2017!

Compliance News in Review: the 2016 Year-End Summary

Here we are again. Another 584 million-mile (940 million km for our metric friends) trip around the sun is nearly complete. It seems like just yesterday we were celebrating the beginning of 2016 and now we’re picking out our favorite brand of champagne to celebrate its end. Before we break out the noisemakers and party favors, let’s take one last nostalgic look back at some of the life sciences compliance-related developments of 2016.

A new milestone was reached regarding HCP spend disclosure. The first disclosure reports under the EFPIA Disclosure Code were released in 2016. Gaining disclosure authorization from individual HCPs proved to be a challenge for the industry and the numbers of doctors who granted authorization ranged widely between countries. According to Britain’s pharmaceutical trade association, ABPI, 70% of their HCPs granted authorization and in Ireland, just over half of HCPs did so. In other transparency developments, ten of Canada’s top drug firms announced plans to voluntarily disclose aggregate physician and healthcare organization payment data. The movement was started by GSK Canada, and other multinational firms including Abbvie, Purdue, BMS, and Lilly followed.

Drug pricing was a big story in 2016. Former CEOs from Turing and Valeant were called to testify before Congress about drug price hikes, and Mylan’s CEO was called to testify over dramatic increases in the cost of an EpiPen. Laws that would require drug companies to disclose information about their pricing decisions were proposed in several states, and a bill was introduced at the federal level with similar requirements. Even with those high profile stories making headlines, only one pricing disclosure law successfully passed this year – Vermont. That law requires a select group of manufacturers to provide information about the factors related to price increases.

A handful of former Insys employees had an eventful year. A former sales representative entered a guilty plea to charges of fraud, and a district sales manager and a several of top executives were all arrested on charges they paid kickbacks to doctors. The drug at the center of the charges is the opioid painkiller, fentanyl. Prosecutors and enforcement agencies claim the individuals offered a variety of kickbacks to doctors to increase prescriptions and encouraged them to prescribe it for unapproved uses.

2016 was an active year for settlements related to bribery cases. GSK, AstraZeneca, SciClone, and Novartis all entered into settlements with the SEC over activities conducted by subsidiaries in China. Orthofix and Teva both set aside cash in anticipation of resolving the FCPA-related charges. Olympus entered into a $22.8 million settlement with the DOJ to resolve charges that a subsidiary covering Latin America paid bribes to healthcare professionals working in government facilities in order to increase sales of product.

We saw a couple of legal “victories” for the industry in the debate over sharing truthful off-label information. In the Amarin case, the FDA decided not to appeal a judge’s decision that allowed the company to share truthful off-label information about its fish oil product. In addition, in proposed jury instructions for a medical device case, the DOJ indicated that it is “not a crime for a device company or its representatives to give doctors wholly truthful and non-misleading information about the unapproved use of a device.”

With a string of legal decisions favoring the industry, the FDA held a public forum in November concerning the ability of drug and device makers to share off-label information. The primary topic was whether the agency needs to revise its regulations considering recent legal decisions and the forum was attended by various stakeholders representing both sides of the argument.

With that, we complete our look back at 2016 and the stories that made headlines in the world of life science compliance. It was an eventful year, and everyone at the Compliance News in Review is excited to see what the new year holds. Thanks for joining us throughout the year and best wishes for a happy, healthy, and compliant 2017!

Compliance News in Review, October 14, 2016

Ghouls, goblins and ghosts galore…the haunting season is here! Enjoy it while you can, before you know it, reindeer, snowmen, and gingerbread men will be scattered across the landscapes. (Poor Thanksgiving…it gets no respect!) No tricks from us though, just treats. And by treats we mean delicious bites of news! So before you head out to wait for the Great Pumpkin, join us for this not-so-scary edition of the Compliance News in Review.

The FDA has carved out time for a public hearing on November 9th and 10th to discuss the subject of communicating off-label uses of drugs and devices. The agency hopes to hear from a variety of stakeholders, including industry representatives, healthcare professionals, patients, and research institutions. Approximately 30 topics will be discussed, ranging from the effect that increased communications will have on patient enrollment in clinical trials to how patients should be made aware that they are receiving information about an off-label use.

GSK is feeling a bit of a chill in the air. The company reached an agreement with the SEC to pay $20 million to resolve FCPA-related charges its Chinese subsidiary paid bribes to increase sales. As part of the settlement, GSK is also required to provide the SEC with reports regarding its implementation of anticorruption measures for the next two years.

Dermatologists are receiving lots of treats from the industry. A study of 2014 Open Payments data reveals that nearly three-quarters of the country’s dermatologists received payments in 2014. Most were under $50.00, but a few of the doctors received payments totaling more than $90,000.00. The study appears in JAMA Dermatology.

These are frightful times at Mylan as the company agrees to pay $465 million to settle claims it overcharged Medicaid for EpiPen. The company has come under intense fire for its pricing practices related to the product. In agreeing to the settlement, Mylan did not admit to wrongdoing.

The news of the FDA’s public hearing on communication related to the unapproved uses of drugs and devices is encouraging. Hopefully, after the forum, the agency will move quickly on the release of new guidance. As court decisions are discussed in the media and more public hearings are announced, now is a great time to reinforce appropriate promotional communication through the release of updated training.

With that, we close our autumnal edition of the Compliance News in Review. One final note – if you’re attending the Pharmaceutical and Medical Device Compliance Congress next week, stop by Booth 404 in the exhibit hall and say “boo!”

Thanks for reading and stay compliant!