Pfizer: The Drug Giant That Makes Bank from Drugs
That Can Kill You
drug company Pfizer is best known for Lipitor, a drug that brings cholesterol
down and Viagra, a drug that brings other things up. But the "world's
largest research-based pharmaceutical company" which sits between Goldman
Sachs and Marathon Oil on the Fortune 500, is also closely associated with
a seemingly never-ending series of scandals. To say Pfizer's been accused
of wrongdoing is like saying BP had an oil spill. Other drug companies have
a portfolio of products, Pfizer has a
portfolio of scandals including, but not limited to, Chantix, Lipitor, Viagra,
Geodon, Trovan, Bextra, Celebrex, Lyrica, Zoloft, Halcion and drugs for
osteoarthritis, Parkinson's disease, kidney transplants and leukemia.
one week in June Pfizer
agreed to pull its 10-year-old leukemia drug Mylotarg from the market
because it caused more, not less patient deaths Suspended
pediatric trials of Geodon two months after the FDA said children were
trials of tanezumab, an osteoarthritis pain drug, because patients got
worse not better, some needing joint replacements (pattern, anyone?)
investigated by the House for off-label marketing of kidney transplant
drug Rapamune and targeting African-Americans
a researcher who helped established its Bextra, Celebrex and Lyrica as
effective pain meds, Scott S Reuben, MD, trotted off to prison for research
was sued by Blue Cross Blue Shield to recoup money it overpaid for Bextra
and other drugs
received a letter from Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) requesting its whistleblower
its appeal to end lawsuits by Nigerian families who accuse it of illegal
trials of the antibiotic Trovan in which 11 children died, rejected by
the Supreme Court. And how was your week? Nor does Pfizer back down when
faced with legal troubles. Even as it was under the probation of a 5-year
Corporate Integrity Agreement
(CIA) with Health and Human Services for withholding $20 million in Lipitor
rebates owed to Medicaid in 2002, it off-label marketed its seizure drug
Neurontin and entered into another CIA in 2004.
Worse, it bought Warner-Lambert in 2000, which made Neurontin, knowing the
drug's marketing practices were under criminal investigation. (And knowing
its Rezulin had been withdrawn.)
even as it entered into its 2004 CIA for Neurontin, it was off-label marketing
the seizure drug Lyrica, called Son of Neurontin, and three other meds,
and had to enter into a third CIA, last year's $2.3 billion Bextra settlement
which was the largest health care fraud settlement in US history. The same
day the settlement news broke, Pfizer announced it bought the drug giant
Wyeth despite its thicket of Fen-Phen heart valve suits and Prempro cancer
And there was more "bring 'em on" chutzpah.
After Vioxx and Pfizer's Bextra were withdrawn from the market for cardiovascular
risks, Pfizer sought FDA approval for its Celebrex, the last legal COX-2
inhibitor, also suspected of cardiovascular risks, for use in children as
young as two.
And in June, days before Pfizer suspended development of the osteoarthritis
drug tanezumab for worsening joints, it touted the drug as "well-tolerated."
As a company, Pfizer, based in New York City with research headquarters
in Groton, CT, looks better from the outside than the inside. Its Pac-Man
like acquisition of drug companies, Warner-Lambert, Pharmacia (Searle, Upjohn),
SUGEN, Vicuron, Rinat and Wyeth (also creating the world's biggest animal
drug company) has created a silo structure in which the company's 90,000
employees in 90 countries feel unconnected to a corporate heartbeat. Loyalty
is rare as employees in absorbed companies bought for their products alone
fear getting pfired and 14,000 scientists bemoan that the company's biggies
like Lipitor, Celebrex, Neurontin, Zithromax, Zyrtec and now Wyeth's Prempro
weren't created inhouse.
Despite flying doctors to Caribbean resorts to attend drug pitches (by other
paid doctors) and bestowing four figure honorariums on them, and Enron moments
like a Bextra sales extravaganza with acrobats, dancers and gigantic "fist"
logo, Pfizer's Midtown Manhattan offices consist of unimpressive cubes.
After becoming the world's biggest drug company in 2000, Henry A. McKinnell,
former Pfizer CEO and a Bushmate (replaced by less conservative Jeffrey
B. Kindler) vowed to make Pfizer the "the world's most valued company
to patients, to customers, to business partners, to colleagues, and to communities
where we work and live." But thanks to the parade of damaging safety
and ethics scandals, Esprit de corps is lacking except in some sales units.
"Pfizer is a black hole," Peter Rost, MD, author of The
Confessions of a Healthcare Hitman and probably Pfizer's most famous
former employee told AlterNet. "It is nothing but a maze of cobbled
together drug companies that aggressively markets drugs it didn't create
in a military-like command structure."
Still, Pfizer's vast product line, its $50 billion a year revenues -- exceeding
some states' entire budgets -- and reputation for having the best trained
sales reps make it the team to beat for competing salesmen and examples
of Pfizer envy dot Cafepharma, the drug industry chatroom considered pharma's
"Glad they did it," wrote a poster about last year's Department
of Justice (DOJ) Bextra settlement. "Pfizer is only sticking it to
the American person when they perpitrate a fruad (sic) of this magnitude.
The rest of you who sat by and said nothing are no better than a bunch of
crooks. My father always said, 'you lie, you cheat, you steal; you can't
do one without doing them all'. You must be so proud...I would take that
name badge off when I walk into an office if I were you."
"If you think that Pfizer is the only drug company that has dealt with
off-label promotion issues you are sadley (sic) mistaken," perpitrated
the next poster.
"You are so right. All the other companies are doing it, so we did
too. Waaah, waaah, waaaaah! (stomping my foot). It's not fair! It made us
so much money! Patients don't matter, money does," wrote the next poster.
Characterizations about wives and mothers followed.
Patients also resent Pfizer and have sued over Chantix, Lipitor, Celebrex,
Bextra, Neurontin, Lyrica, Viagra, Zoloft and other drugs. Pfizer downplayed
Lipitor's "serious and irreversible side effects" says Mark Jay
Krum, an attorney representing plaintiffs in a class-action suit, and "is
willing to promote the drug at any cost." Say that.
Even the DOJ calls Pfizer incorrigible. "...illegal conduct was pervasive
throughout the company and stemmed from messages created at high levels
within the national marketing team," it wrote in the Bextra sentencing
memo. "Employees, including district managers, explained that they
did not question their supervisors about the illegal conduct that they were
being instructed to carry out, because to do so would be considered a 'CLM'
or 'Career Limiting Move.'"
Still the FDA needs to take some blame for waving iffy Pfizer drugs through,
especially under the 1992 Prescription Drug User Fee Act (PDUFA) in which
drug companies "buy" accelerated approvals.
Why did the FDA allow Pfizer to make money for ten years on the leukemia
drug Mylotarg, which was given an accelerated approval, and allow people
to take it as guinea pigs for ten years while "confirmatory" studies
establishing its safety and efficacy were still outstanding? Patients who
took Mylotarg while on chemotherapy had more deaths than those just on chemotherapy
in a clear example of the lethal metrics of rushed through drugs.
Why was Pfizer's pain drug tanezumab, an injected monoclonal antibody made
from bio-engineered immune cells, even considered for knee pain except for
the profits in such Frakendrugs?
Why was Pfizer allowed to continue clinical trials on children, or anyone,
after the FDA found Geodon overdoses in April -- and why is Geodon, rejected
once by the FDA and promoted by Richard Borison MD who is in Hancock State
Prison for research fraud -- hello -- on the market? Obama appointees Commissioner
Margaret Hamburg, MD and principal deputy commissioner Joshua Sharfstein,
MD come from public health backgrounds but it will be hard to turn the FDA
And speaking of dangerous drugs, what's up with Pfizer's anti-smoking drug
In 2007, Texas musician Carter Albrecht, who played with Sorta and Edie
Brickell & New Bohemians, became a poster boy for Chantix' unpredictable
mental effects when he was fatally shot trying to kick in a neighbor's door.
In 2008, with 988 adverse effects reported including seizures, heart trouble
and suicides, the FDA banned airline pilots and air traffic controllers
from taking it. Thanks for that. Last year it gave Chantix a black box warning
to "highlight the risk of serious mental health events including changes
in behavior, depressed mood, hostility, and suicidal thoughts when taking
Most pharma watchers agree that financial penalties, including last year's
$2.3 billion Bextra settlement, won't upend Pfizer whose one year budget
for R & D alone is in the billions. Yet the DOJ repeatedly lets Pfizer
pawn off guilty pleas to the False Claims Act (which include a ban on Medicare,
Medicaid and VA eligibility) on its shell companies and keep doing business
with the government. Why?
"Pfizer is the largest drug company in the world and if you include
its generics unit it makes literally hundreds of different drugs. Getting
tough would mean no Lipitor, no Viagra, no Bacitracin, no Cipro, no Zithromax,
no Sutent, et cetera," says Jim Edwards, a pharmaceutical reporter
on Bnet and former managing editor of Adweek. "The government is not
really in a position to be cutting itself off from all that medicine."
"So many Medicaid, Medicare and VA drugs come from Pfizer, the government
would never convict them," agrees Peter Rost. "It would stop the
drug flow." And then there's lobby power.
Just as former Louisiana Republican representative Billy Tauzin left the
House Committee on Energy and Commerce which oversees the drug industry
and resurfaced as head of PhRMA, Pfizer recently hired Gregory Simon who
served on Obama's transition team and as chief domestic policy advisor to
Vice President Gore to head its "global policy effort." Its senior
corporate counsel until 2008, Arnold Friede, had an FDA background and Pfizer's
former senior vice president for worldwide public affairs, Richard Bagger,
has re-emerged as New Jersey Governor Christopher Christie's chief of staff.
Hey, you guys look familiar!
Even the Bextra settlement arouses cynicism since $102 million of it went
to a doctor and five former Pfizer reps who served as whistleblowers on
the case, one getting $51 million.
Isn't making big money off pharma how the trouble started?
Martha Rosenberg, AlterNet
Martha Rosenberg frequently writes about the impact of the pharmaceutical,
food and gun industries on public health. Her work has appeared in the Boston
Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune and other outlets.
(c) 2010 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/147467/