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Allergan Pleads Guilty to Off-Label Promotion of Botox, Will Pay $600M


Washington, DC: American pharmaceutical manufacturer Allergan Inc. has agreed to plead guilty and pay $600 million to resolve its criminal and civil liability arising from the company's unlawful promotion of its biological product, Botox Therapeutic, for uses not approved as safe and effective by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Justice Department announced today. The resolution includes a criminal fine and forfeiture totaling $375 million and a civil settlement with the federal government and the states of $225 million.

Under the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDCA), a company in its application to the FDA must specify each intended use of a biological product. After the FDA approves the product as safe and effective for a specified use, any promotion by the manufacturer for other uses – known as "off-label" uses – renders the product misbranded.

Tony West, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division of the Department of Justice, and Sally Quillian Yates, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, today announced the filing of a criminal information against Allergan for promoting Botox® for headache, pain, spasticity and juvenile cerebral palsy – none of which were approved by the FDA. According to the criminal information, Allergan made it a top corporate priority to maximize sales of Botox® for such off-label uses.

In 1989, the FDA approved Botox®, a prescription biological product containing botulinum toxin type A, a purified neurotoxin, to treat strabismus (crossed eyes) and blepharospasm (involuntary eyelid muscle contraction). In 2000 and 2004, approval was given to treat cervical dystonia (involuntary neck muscle contraction) and primary axillary hyperhidrosis (excessive underarm sweating), respectively. In 2010, approval was given to treat adult upper-limb spasticity.

The criminal information alleges that Allergan exploited its on-label cervical dystonia (CD) indication to grow off-label pain and headache (HA) sales. In 2003, Allergan developed the "CD/HA Initiative" as a "rescue strategy" in the event of negative results from its clinical trials to ensure continued expansion into the pain and headache markets. As part of this initiative, Allergan claimed that cervical dystonia was "underdiagnosed" and that doctors could diagnose cervical dystonia based on headache and pain symptoms, even when the doctor "doesn't see any cervical dystonia."

Allergan's off-label marketing tactics also included calling on doctors who typically treat patients with off-label conditions. In 2003, Allergan doubled the size of its reimbursement team to assist doctors in obtaining payment for off-label Botox® injections. Allergan held workshops to teach doctors and their office staffs how to bill for off-label uses, conducted detailed audits of doctors' billing records to demonstrate how they could make money by injecting Botox®, and operated the Botox® Reimbursement Hotline, which provided a wide array of free on-demand services to doctors for off-label uses. Allergan also lobbied government health care programs to expand coverage for off-label uses, directed physician workshops and dinners focused on off-label uses, paid doctors to attend "advisory boards" promoting off-label uses, and created a purportedly independent online neurotoxin education organization to stimulate increased use of Botox® for off-label indications.

"The Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act protects the public from drugs and biologic products that are not proven to be safe and effective. When drug companies make unsubstantiated and misleading statements about their products, they undermine the Act's protection of public health," said Tony West, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division of the Department of Justice. "We will continue to pursue drug companies that violate the Act for their own financial gain."

"The FDA had approved therapeutic uses of Botox for only four rare conditions, yet Allergan made it a top corporate priority to maximize sales of far more lucrative off-label uses that were not approved by FDA," said Sally Yates, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia. "Allergan further demanded tremendous growth in these off-label sales year after year, even when there was little clinical evidence that these uses were effective. The FDA approval process ensures that pharmaceutical companies market their medications for uses that are proven to be safe and effective, and this case demonstrates that companies that fail to comply with these rules face criminal prosecution and stiff penalties."

Allergan has agreed to plead guilty to a criminal misdemeanor for misbranding Botox® in violation of the FDCA. Under the plea agreement, the company will pay a criminal fine of $375 million, which includes forfeiting assets of $25 million. Allergan's guilty plea and sentence is not final until accepted by the U.S. District Court.

"The FDA exists to assure that drugs marketed to the American people are safe and effective" said Dr. Margaret Hamburg, Commissioner, Food and Drug Administration. "The 'off-label' promotion of drugs threatens public health and the role of the FDA, which has served our country well and has protected Americans from unsafe and ineffective drugs."

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Published on Sep-2-10


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