CONFESSIONS OF A HEALTHCARE HITMAN
PETER ROST MD
SOFT SKULL PRESS 2006
Pharmacia’s CEO receives a warning
- One of the most famous professors in the endocrinology area told me that a group of renowned endocrinologists around the world had been very worried a couple of years earlier about the direction the Genotropin franchise was taking in the U.S. The fact that Pharmacia paid for and included many off-label patients in their data base was of particular concern to them.
They had been so worried, in fact, that they had written a letter directly to Fred Hassan – Pharmacia’s CEO. I asked if I could see the letter. Lo and behold, back on August 21, 2000, one year before I had started my new job at Pharmacia, he and many others had indeed spelled out their concerns to Fred.
KIGS and KIMS were two outcomes databases that tracked patients. GHD was an abbreviation for “growth hormone deficiency,” a condition for which the FDA had approved Genotropin. A competing drug was approved for short stature a year after this letter. So when this professor asked Fred not to include patients with other indications, he was referring to all the indications for which Genotropin was not approved. The professor also wrote in an e-mail to me, “I told them that it was first when you joined that my confidence in Pharmacia returned. I told them about your predecessor’s off-label marketing.”
What I didn’t discover until later when I started to connect many loose documents, was that on January 14, 2000, Fred had received a letter from a prominent anti-aging physician. The letter was written on the “The Renaissance Longevity Center” stationary and invited Hassan to a “strategic alliance” for the “most aggressive ethical campaign ever launched for the marketing of growth hormone injections.”
Fred sent the letter with an annotation in his own handwriting “Please follow-up/ack, etc., FH,” to his direct reports and it ended up on the desk of the person responsible for Genotropin at that time. On February 3, 2000, the same anti-aging physician wrote a two-page letter to the Vice President of Endocrine Care, summarizing a telephone conference they had on January 28, 2000. Among other things he wanted to discuss were the ability for the longevity centers to purchase growth hormone at quantity discount prices and other benefits that Pharmacia could provide them. On May 1, 2000, the US marketing director for Genotropin signed a “$50,000” consulting agreement with the anti-aging physician and the rest is history; sales of genotropin for anti-aging purposes took off.
Chapter 5: You’re Fired!
Chapter 6: The Private Detective
Chapter 7: The Investigation
Chapter 8: Sexual Liaisons
Chapter 9: Suicide?
Chapter 10: Phone Surveillance
Chapter 11: Fake Numbers
Chapter 12: The Big Surprise
Chapter 13: The SEC Gets Involved
Chapter 14: You Will Never, Ever Work Again
Chapter 15: An Explosive Book Review
Chapter 16: Risking Everything
Chapter 17: Fanning the Flames on Capitol Hill
Chapter 18: A political Inquisition
Chapter 19: How Corrupt is the Drug Industry?
Chapter 20: FDA Secrets
Chapter 21: Going on the Offense
Chapter 22: The Dirty Little Secret
Chapter 23: What the Government Tried to Hide
Chapter 24: The “Disenabled” E-Mail Account
Chapter 25: Admissions by Pfizer’s CEO
Chapter 26: Fighting a War
Pfizer fired me on December 1, 2005.
I was informed of my termination by journalists, not by Pfizer. I was in Costa Rica, lecturing on reimportation of drugs. This was a meeting well publicized in advance and I couldn’t help but feel faintly flattered that Pfizer had waited until I was out of the country to let the ax fall. When I returned home I discovered my termination letter taped to my front door. The person who brought the letter to my house had, apparently, had the foresight to also bring a tape roll.
For Pfizer my termination appeared to be a major event, celebrated by calling every major newspaper and offering interviews about this strategic corporate decision. They even called the producers at 60 Minutes, hoping, that perhaps this would merit yet another segment. In doing so, they may have miscalculated. Instead of doing a show about my humbling termination, 60 Minutes called me and asked me to participate in a new story about the anti-aging industry.
Pfizer didn’t simply terminate my employment – in a carefully orchestrated media strategy they also made the titillating public revelation that I’d file a qui tam lawsuit against the company. The False Claims Act allows private individuals to sue in the name of the U.S. government when the government has lost money based on sales, marketing, and other practices that violate federal laws. The person who files the suit can also collect a substantial share of any fines, which sometimes run into hundreds of millions.
My lawsuit, filed back in 2003, alleged that, from about 1997 until 2003, Pharmacia illegally promoted Genotropin for off-label uses for anti-aging in adults and short-stature in children unrelated to growth hormone deficiency. I had not been allowed to talk about the suit, much less write a word in this book, since it had been filed under seal. The Justice Department in November 2005 declined to intervene in this civil action, leading the court to unseal the suit. The bad part about this development is that my lawyers will now have to do all the legal work on their own. The good news is that my minimum share of any fine has almost doubled, from 15% to 25%.
- Pfizer, however, didn’t just reveal my qui tam action to the media; they also submitted a motion to have the case dismissed, which they released to the press.
- I learned that, after many of my coworkers and I had helped Pfizer address the problems in the Genotropin franchise, Pfizer had turned around and tried to paint us all as crooks.
- “Pfizer has replaced or is in the process of replacing senior sales and marketing personnel in the Genotropin product line and disciplining certain sales representatives. Indeed, due to the merger, Pfizer has placed entirely new senior management in charge of the Genotropin product line.”
- Not a word that I had been pushing them for months to take action and that in response to this they’d threatened to fire me.
- Pfizer’s attempt at character assassination didn’t stop there. The American Council on Science and Health on December 30, 2005, announced that they had nominated me to “Whiny Whistleblower of the year.”
- I felt honoured to be officially nominated ‘Whiny Whistleblower of the Year’ by a front organization paid by Pfizer and Big Pharma.
- My qui tam complaint hadn’t only resulted in a civil investigation; because of the law that makes it a criminal offense to knowingly distribute growth hormone for off-label usage, the Justice Department’s criminal division, in the summer of 2005, also started an investigation.
- I was surprised that Pfizer terminated my employment in the middle of this criminal investigation, by terminating a federal grand jury witness in an ongoing investigation.
- US Congressmen, on September 30, 2004, sent an open letter to Pfizer’s CEO and Board of Directors, stating, “We are writing to express our serious concerns at the intimidation being directed at Pfizer Vice President Peter Rost.”
- Pfizer has a history of firing Whistleblowers. The Wall Street Journal described how Dr. Juan Walterpiel was fired when he raised ethical issues.
- There is no question in my mind that Pfizer’s termination of whistleblowers sends chilling signals to honest employees within the company.
- So why did I start all of this? Why did I ever file the qui tam lawsuit against Pfizer that resulted in this ruckus? Let me give you some background on what I couldn’t write about until now, without violating the seal of complaint…….
An employee faced with illegal corporate behavior has three choices. He can quit, join the conspiracy, or act. My choice was to act. Unfortunately, the end result is that I’m unemployed for the first time in my life. And I’m not alone in that situation.
Today’s system is based on greed. Greed is defined as an excessive desire to acquire or possess more than someone needs or deserves. Greed is not a corporate executive who builds an organization such as Microsoft, creates a lot of jobs, and happens to get rich. Greed is to become CEO for a drug company such as Pfizer, be responsible for a stock price drop of close to 50% over a five-year tenure, twice as much as other companies in the industry, secure a $83 million retirement package while firing 16,385 Pharmacia and Pfizer employees, and get a 72% pay increase to $16.6 million as his reward in 2004.
- Our CEOs are in a position in which they can use public companies as personal piggy banks.
- The pharmaceutical industry spends over $100 million on lobbying activities to stop lower drug prices, according to the Center for Public Integrity.
- During the 2004 election cycle, the drug industry contributed $1 million to President Bush. For an industry that makes $500 billion on a global basis, spending $1 million on a president or $100 on lobbying is pocket change.
This money was well spent. It stopped legalized import of cheaper drugs and bought the U.S. a new Medicare drug program. This $720 billion law includes $139 billion in profits to drug manufacturers and $46 billion in subsidies to HMOs and private insurance plans. The program has been such a disaster for our poor; at least 24 states have been forced to enact emergency measures to ensure access to medications during the implementation of this law. That’s what a million dollars buys in Washington.
So how could this happen? The answer is simple. The American democracy has been stolen by our new class of robber barons – the CEOs of our largest corporations. A political system dependent on charity from rich men in hand-tailored suits with $100-million retirement packages is no democracy. It is kleptocracy. It is not what our founding fathers envisioned.
So, can we change this? Can we build a new future? I believe that we can. I believe this because we live in a country that could rid itself of slavery, a country that finally allowed women to vote; a country that has come a long way in the short time since the civil rights movement began. But early on, each of these incredible changes was fiercely opposed by those in power, and none took place without great sacrifice. To free our corporations from sticky-fingered CEOs, to free our elected representatives from “pay to play money,” and to free our people from these tyrants is going to take sacrifice and time. Perhaps another 100 years. In short, it will require a second American revolution. I believe that, one day, this will happen.
Peter Rost writes a daily bog on http://peterrost.blogspot.com/