NEW YORK (AP) - The U.S. government sued Novartis
Pharmaceuticals Corp. on Tuesday, claiming that it gave kickbacks to
pharmacies to switch kidney transplant patients from competitors'
drugs to its own.
The lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Manhattan seeks unspecified damages and civil penalties for a scheme that the government said has been carried out since 2005.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said the company used the "lure of kickbacks disguised as rebates" to turn 20 or more pharmacies into a sales force for its drug, Myfortic. He said the company's actions caused the public to pay tens of millions of dollars for kickback- tainted drugs dispensed by pharmacists who had buddied up to Novartis.
Bharara said Novartis is a repeat offender, having settled fraud charges based on kickbacks less than three years ago.
The government said Novartis offered one pharmacist in Los Angeles a "bonus" rebate amounting to several hundred thousand dollars to induce the pharmacist to "shoulder the burden" of switching 700 to 1,000 transplant patients to Myfortic.
Novartis said in a statement that it disputes the claims.
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