Novartis Sales Reps Will Testify About Lavish Meals, U.S. Says

(Bloomberg) -- U.S. prosecutors said numerous Novartis AG sales representatives will testify they plied doctors with lavish meals, booze and other benefits in exchange for promises to prescribe the Swiss company’s drugs, as a seven-year-old case moves toward trial.

One sales representative said he and his colleagues were “essentially buying scripts” by providing health-care providers across the country with perks, including paid speaking opportunities at events with "little to no educational content," prosecutors said in a filing Monday in federal court in Manhattan.

The government sought to highlight the depth of its evidence after Novartis had asked a judge to rule that there was insufficient proof to move forward. The government urged U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe to reject the request and set a trial date.

“Novartis has identified multiple aspects of the government’s case for which the government lacks evidence to support its claims," spokesman Eric Althoff said in a statement. The company "disagrees with the government’s characterization of our conduct and continues to dispute the allegations concerning certain speaker programs from 2002 through 2011."

Marketing Efforts

The government said that both health-care providers and sales representatives will also testify that doctors got paid to speak at events that never occurred, and that participants would sometimes take turns playing the part of speaker and attendee at events that did take place, according to the filing.

The U.S. sued Novartis in 2013, intervening in a case filed earlier by a whistle-blower alleging the Basel, Switzerland-based company regularly provided doctors with expensive dinners, fishing trips, fees to speak at events to boost sales of the company’s drugs.

In March 2017, Novartis was ordered to give prosecutors records from about 80,000 events that the government says were used to wine and dine doctors so they would prescribe the company’s cardiovascular drugs.

Novartis has recently faced other accusations of improper sales practices. In 2015, the company entered into a $390 million settlement with the Department of Justice to settle allegations that it had given kickbacks to specialty pharmacies in return for recommending two of its drugs.

The case is U.S. v. Novartis Pharmaceutical Corp., 11-CV-0071, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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