Novo Nordisk Agrees to Pay $58 Million for Failure to Comply with FDA-Mandated Risk Program

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Payments Resolve Allegations Highlighted in DOJ Civil Complaint and Recently Unsealed Whistleblower Actions

Pharmaceutical Manufacturer Novo Nordisk Inc. will pay $58.65 million to resolve allegations that the company failed to comply with the FDA-mandated Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) for its Type II diabetes medication Victoza, the Justice Department announced today. The resolution includes disgorgement of $12.15 million for alleged violations of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) from 2010 to 2012 and a payment of $46.5 million for alleged violations of the False Claims Act (FCA) from 2010 to 2014. Novo Nordisk is a subsidiary of Novo Nordisk U.S. Holdings Inc., which is a subsidiary of Novo Nordisk A/S of Denmark. Novo Nordisk’s U.S. headquarters is in Plainsboro, New Jersey.

“Today’s resolution demonstrates the Department of Justice’s continued commitment to ensuring that drug manufacturers comply with the law,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “When a drug manufacturer fails to share accurate risk information with doctors and patients, it deprives physicians of information vital to medical decision-making.”

In a civil complaint filed today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia asserting claims under the FDCA, the government alleged that, at the time of Victoza’s approval in 2010, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) required a REMS to mitigate the potential risk in humans of a rare form of cancer called Medullary Thyroid Carcinoma (MTC) associated with the drug. The REMS required Novo Nordisk to provide information regarding Victoza’s potential risk of MTC to physicians. A manufacturer that fails to comply with the requirements of the REMS, including requirements to communicate accurate risk information, renders the drug misbranded under the law.

As alleged in the complaint, some Novo Nordisk sales representatives gave information to physicians that created the false or misleading impression that the Victoza REMS-required message was erroneous, irrelevant, or unimportant. The complaint further alleges that Novo Nordisk failed to comply with the REMS by creating the false or misleading impression about the Victoza REMS-required risk message that violated provisions of the FDCA and led some physicians to be unaware of the potential risks when prescribing Victoza.

As alleged in the government’s complaint, after a survey in 2011 showed that half of primary care doctors polled were unaware of the potential risk of MTC associated with the drug, the FDA required a modification to the REMS to increase awareness of the potential risk. Rather than appropriately implementing the modification, the complaint alleges that Novo Nordisk instructed its sales force to provide statements to doctors that obscured the risk information and failed to comply with the REMS modification. Novo Nordisk has agreed to disgorge $12.15 million in profits derived from its unlawful conduct in violation of the FDCA.

“Novo Nordisk’s actions unnecessarily put vulnerable patients at risk,” said U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips for the District of Columbia. “We are committed to holding companies accountable for violating the integrity of the FDA’s efforts to ensure that doctors and patients have accurate information that allows them to make appropriate decisions about which drugs to use in their care. Working with the FDA and other law enforcement partners, we have sent a strong signal to the drug industry today.”

“Novo Nordisk Inc. sales representatives misled physicians by failing to accurately disclose a potential life threatening side effect of a prescription drug, and needlessly increased risks to patients being treated with this drug,” said Assistant Director in Charge Andrew W. Vale of the FBI’s Washington Field Office. “The FBI is committed to ensuring that the private industry provides honest and accurate risk information to the public and will continue to work closely with our law enforcement partners to investigate companies who do not comply with FDA-mandated policies.”

“We need to trust that pharmaceutical companies truthfully represent their products’ potential risks,” said Special Agent in Charge Nick DiGiulio for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General (HHS-OIG). “We will continue to work with our partners to ensure federal health care dollars are spent only on drugs that are marketed honestly.”

Novo Nordisk will pay an additional $46.5 million to the federal government and the states to resolve claims under the FCA and state false claims acts. This portion of the settlement resolves allegations that Novo Nordisk caused the submission of false claims from 2010 to 2014 to federal health care programs for Victoza by arming its sales force with messages that could create a false or misleading impression with physicians that the Victoza REMS-required message about the potential risk of MTC associated with Victoza was erroneous, irrelevant, or unimportant and by encouraging the sale to and use of Victoza by adult patients who did not have Type II diabetes. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved Victoza as safe and effective for use by adult patients who do not have Type II diabetes.

As a result of today’s FCA settlement, the federal government will receive $43,129,026 and state Medicaid programs will receive $3,320,963. The Medicaid program is funded jointly by the state and federal governments.

The FCA settlement resolves seven lawsuits filed under the whistleblower provision of the federal FCA, which permits private parties to file suit on behalf of the United States for false claims and share in a portion of the government’s recovery. The civil lawsuits are captioned as follows: United States, et al. ex rel. Kennedy, v. Novo A/S, et al., No. 13-cv-01529 (D.D.C.), United States, et al. ex rel. Dastous, et al. v. Novo Nordisk, No. 11-cv-01662 (D.D.C), United States, et al., ex rel. Ferrara and Kelling v Novo Nordisk, Inc., et al., No. 1:11-cv-00074 (D.D.C.), United States, et al., ex rel. Myers v. Novo Nordisk, Inc., No. 11-cv-1596 (D.D.C.), United States, et al. ex rel Stepe v. Novo Nordisk, Inc., No. 13-cv-221 (D.D.C.), United States et al. ex rel Doe, et al. v. Novo Nordisk, Inc., et al., No. 1:17-00791 (D.D.C.), and United States ex rel. Smith, et al. v. Novo Nordisk, Inc., Civ. Action No. 16-1605 (D.D.C.). The amount to be recovered by the private parties has not been determined.

The settlements were the result of a coordinated effort among the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch and Commercial Litigation Branch, with assistance from the FDA’s Office of Chief Counsel. The investigation was conducted by the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations, the FBI, HHS-OIG, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service and the Office of Personnel Management, Office of the Inspector General.

For more information about the Consumer Protection Branch and its enforcement efforts, visit its website at http://www.justice.gov/civil/consumer-protection-branch. For more information on the Commercial Litigation Branch’s Fraud Section, visit https://www.justice.gov/civil/fraud-section. For more information about the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, visit https://www.justice.gov/usao-dc.

Galena Biopharma Inc. to Pay More Than $7.55 Million to Resolve Alleged False Claims Related to Opioid Drug

Friday, September 8, 2017

Galena Biopharma Inc. (Galena) will pay more than $7.55 million to resolve allegations under the civil False Claims Act that it paid kickbacks to doctors to induce them to prescribe its fentanyl-based drug Abstral, the Department of Justice announced today.

“Given the dangers associated with opioids such as Abstral, it is imperative that prescriptions be based on a patient’s medical need rather than a doctor’s financial interests,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “The Department of Justice intends to vigorously pursue those who offer and receive illegal inducements that undermine the integrity of government health care programs.”

The conduct alleged by the government and resolved by today’s settlement was egregious because it incentivized doctors to over-prescribe highly addictive opioids,” said Acting U.S. Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick for the District of New Jersey. “This settlement constitutes another example of the Department of Justice’s ongoing efforts to battle the opioid epidemic on every front.

The United States contends that Galena paid multiple types of kickbacks to induce doctors to prescribe Abstral, including providing more than 85 free meals to doctors and staff from a single, high-prescribing practice; paying doctors $5,000, and speakers $6,000, plus expenses, to attend an “advisory board” that was partly planned, and attended, by Galena sales team members and paying approximately $92,000 to a physician-owned pharmacy under a performance-based rebate agreement to induce the owners to prescribe Abstral. The United States also contends that Galena paid doctors to refer patients to the company’s RELIEF patient registry study, which was nominally designed to collect data on patient experiences with Abstral, but acted as a means to induce the doctors to prescribe Abstral. Galena has not marketed any pharmaceutical drug since the end of 2015.

Two of the doctors who received remuneration from Galena were tried, convicted and later sentenced to prison in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama following a jury trial of, among other counts, offenses relating to their prescriptions of Abstral. Galena cooperated in that prosecution.

The settlement resolves a lawsuit filed by relator Lynne Dougherty under the whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act, which permit private parties to file suit on behalf of the United States and obtain a portion of the government’s recovery. As part of today’s resolution, Ms. Dougherty will receive more than $1.2 million. The matter remains under seal as to allegations against entities other than Galena.

The settlement is the result of a coordinated effort by the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey, with assistance from the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Counsel to the Inspector General, and the Food and Drug Administration Office of Criminal Investigations’ Metro Washington Field Office.

The claims settled by this agreement are allegations only; there have been no admissions of liability by Galena.

South Carolina Family Practice Chain, Its Co-Owner, and Its Laboratory Director Agree to Pay the United States $2 Million to Settle Alleged False Claims Act Violations for Illegal Medicare Referrals and Billing for Unnecessary Medical Services

Monday, September 11, 2017

Family Medicine Centers of South Carolina LLC (FMC), has agreed to pay the United States $1.56 million, and FMC’s principal owner and former chief executive officer, Dr. Stephen F. Serbin, and its former Laboratory Director, Victoria Serbin, have agreed to pay $443,000 to resolve a False Claims Act lawsuit alleging that they submitted and caused the submission of false claims to the Medicare and TRICARE programs. FMC is a physician-owned chain of family medicine clinics located in and around Columbia, South Carolina, whose practices include Springwood Lake Family Practice, Woodhill Family Practice, Midtown Family Medicine, Saluda Pointe Family Medicine, Lake Murray Family Medicine, and the now closed Rice Creek Family Medicine.

The settlements announced today resolve allegations that FMC, as directed by Dr. Serbin, submitted claims to the Medicare Program that violated the physician self-referral prohibition, commonly known as the Stark Law, which is intended to ensure that a physician’s medical judgment is not compromised by improper financial incentives. The Stark Law forbids a clinic from billing Medicare for certain services ordered by physicians who have a financial relationship with the entity. In this case, the government alleged that the Stark Law was violated by FMC’s incentive compensation plan that paid FMC’s physicians a percentage of the value of laboratory and other diagnostic tests that they personally ordered through FMC, which FMC then billed to Medicare. Dr. Serbin, FMC’s co-owner and chief executive, allegedly initiated this program and reminded FMC’s physicians that they needed to order tests and other services through FMC in order to increase FMC’s profits and to ensure that their take-home pay remained in the upper level nationwide for family practice doctors.

“Financial arrangements that compensate physicians for referrals can sometimes encourage physicians to make decisions based on financial gain rather than patient needs,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “The Department of Justice is committed to preventing illegal financial relationships that undermine the integrity of our public health programs and drive up the cost of healthcare for taxpayers.”

The settlements also resolve allegations that FMC, Dr. Serbin, and Victoria Serbin submitted and caused the submission of false claims to Medicare and TRICARE for medically unnecessary laboratory services by creating custom laboratory panels comprised of diagnostic tests not appropriate for routine measurement, performing these tests without an order from the treating physician, implementing standing orders to assure these custom panels were performed with defined frequency and not in reaction to clinical need, and programming FMC’s billing software to systematically change certain billing codes for laboratory tests to ensure payment by Medicare.

“Healthcare decisions should be made by physicians based on medical science and not with regard to maximizing the doctor’s own income,” said U.S. Attorney Beth Drake for the District of South Carolina. “Our goal in bringing this case was not only to recover money for improper healthcare claims, but also to deter similar conduct and promote health care affordability.”

The allegations settled today arose from a lawsuit filed by a physician formerly employed by FMC, Dr. Catherine A. Schaefer, under the whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act. Under the act, private citizens can bring suit on behalf of the government for false claims and share in any recovery. Dr. Schaefer will receive $340,510.

As part of the settlement announced today, FMC and the Serbins have also agreed to enter into a Corporate Integrity Agreement with the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG), which ensures the Serbins will have no management role in FMC for five years and obligates FMC to undertake other substantial internal compliance reforms, including hiring an independent review organization to conduct annual claims reviews.

“Patients and taxpayers should expect that doctors’ best medical judgement is not clouded by what amount to thinly-veiled bribes,” said Special Agent in Charge Derrick L. Jackson for HHS-OIG. “We will work tirelessly with our law enforcement partners to preserve government health funds by bringing violators to justice.”

“We applaud the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney for the District of South Carolina for holding this provider accountable for its actions,” said Deputy Director Guy Kiyokawa of the Defense Health Agency. “The provider’s actions targeted American service members, veterans and their families, diverting valuable resources through unnecessary tests. The Defense Health Agency continues to work closely with the Justice Department and other state and federal agencies to investigate all those who participated in these nefarious, fraudulent practices.”

This case was handled by the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina, HHS-OIG and the Defense Health Agency.

The litigation and settlement of this matter illustrates the government’s emphasis on combating health care fraud. One of the most powerful tools in this effort is the False Claims Act. Tips and complaints from all sources about potential fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement can be reported to the Department of Health and Human Services, at 800-HHS-TIPS (800-447-8477).

The claims resolved by this settlement are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability. The case is captioned United States ex rel. Schaefer v. Family Medicine Centers of South Carolina, LLC, Stephen F. Serbin, M.D. and Victoria Serbin, No. 3:14-cv-342-MBS (D.S.C.).

U.S. Files New Complaint Against City Of Los Angeles and a Former Redevelopment Agency to Recover Millions of Federal Grant Dollars Allegedly Obtained by Making False Promises to Provide Housing to Persons with Disabilities

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The United States late yesterday filed a complaint in intervention against the City of Los Angeles and the CRA/LA (formerly the Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles) alleging that together they fraudulently obtained millions of dollars in housing grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by falsely certifying that the money was being spent in compliance with federal accessibility laws.

The complaint in intervention – which replaces a complaint previously filed on behalf of the United States by a “whistleblower” – alleges the city and CRA/LA received federal money by falsely promising to create accessible housing for people with disabilities. Instead of creating accessible housing, they used the money to create inaccessible housing that deprived people with disabilities an equal opportunity to find housing of their choice.

The city repeatedly certified its compliance with federal accessibility laws to obtain the federal funds without taking the required steps to ensure it complied, according to the complaint, which further alleges that many of the HUD-assisted apartment buildings failed to meet minimal accessibility requirements. The city allegedly approved the design and construction of inaccessible buildings, with, among other things:

  • slopes and ramps that are too steep for safe passage by persons with mobility disabilities;
  • door thresholds that are too tall for wheelchairs to roll over;
  • steps that prohibit access to common areas;
  • kitchen cabinets, shelves and surfaces that are outside of the accessible reach ranges of persons who use wheelchairs;
  • sinks, grab bars, mailboxes and circuit breakers mounted beyond the reach of wheelchair users;
  • pipes below sinks and lavatories that are not insulated, thereby posing a physical threat of burns to people who use wheelchairs; and
  • insufficient numbers of accessible parking spaces in garages and lots.

“The complaint filed yesterday underscores the Department’s commitment to ensure that people with disabilities are provided equal access to federally-funded public housing, as required by law,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.

“Despite the federal government investing hundreds of millions of dollars in Los Angeles to create housing for everyone, the City of Los Angeles instead created housing only for some,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Sandra R. Brown for the Central District of California. “For 17 years, the city falsely certified that it had complied with federal law and covered up its repeated disregard of historic and important civil rights laws.”

The city and the CRA/LA allegedly violated Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act, as well as failed to fulfill their duty to affirmatively further fair housing. Congress passed these accessibility laws to ensure people with disabilities have an opportunity to live in an integrated society, achieve independent living, and have the same opportunities for economic and social self-sufficiency as other citizens.

By law, the city and the CRA/LA are required to comply with the federal accessibility laws. They could not – neither directly, nor through contractual or other arrangements – deny people with disabilities the opportunity to benefit from housing services or subject them to discrimination based on disability.

The accessibility laws require recipients of federal funds to operate their housing programs in a manner that is accessible to people with disabilities. Among other things, they must have a system in place to ensure compliance with the laws. They are required to develop non-discriminatory policies and practices, hire a coordinator knowledgeable about accessibility, and implement a grievance procedure that allows for just resolution of complaints. They also must maintain a publicly available list of accessible units and their accessibility features so that people who require those features are able to find housing.

The federal accessibility laws also require that recipients of federal monies have a method in place to avoid giving accessible units needed by people with disabilities to people who do not need accessibility features. The laws also require that recipients of federal monies monitor apartment buildings to ensure they are designed, constructed and altered in compliance with the law so that, among other things, five percent of all units in certain multifamily housing will be accessible to people with mobility impairments, and an additional two percent will be accessible to people with visual and auditory impairments.

The United States’ lawsuit alleges that the city and CRA/LA failed to meet these legal obligations.

The lawsuit, United States ex rel. Ling, et al. v. City of Los Angeles, et al., CV11-974-PG, was originally filed in U.S. District Court by whistleblowers Mei Ling, a resident of Los Angeles who uses a wheelchair, and the Fair Housing Council of San Fernando Valley, a nonprofit civil rights advocacy group. The United States elected to intervene in the lawsuit and take over the litigation, which prompted the unsealing of the whistleblowers’ complaint in June. The case is pending before U.S. District Judge Philip S. Gutierrez.

The lawsuit was filed under the qui tam – or whistleblower – provisions of the False Claims Act, which permit private parties to sue on behalf of the United States when they believe that a party has submitted false claims for government funds, and to receive a share of any recovery.

This matter was investigated by the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California and the HUD Office of Inspector General.

The claims asserted against the City of Los Angeles and the CRA/LA are allegations only; there has been no determination of liability.