– Pfizer Inc., the world’s biggest drugmaker, said a consultant to plaintiffs’ attorneys in lawsuits over its epilepsy drug Neurontin tried to tamper with a prospective witness.
Dr. David Egilman, a Brown University medical professor, “improperly contacted” the treating physician of a Massachusetts man whose family claims he killed himself after taking the drug, Pfizer said in a court filing. Pfizer asked the judge to punish Egilman for sending a sealed document to the doctor. Pfizer faces a trial in this case, brought by the family of Hartley Shearer, in March.
Egilman’s letter to Shearer’s doctor was “a transparent attempt to taint her perceptions of Pfizer shortly before her deposition,” Pfizer said. Egilman enclosed “a confidential internal e-mail between Pfizer employees,” along with other documents, in his letter to Dr. Lisa Catapano-Friedman, the company said.
Pfizer asked U.S. District Judge Patti B. Saris in Boston to bar Egilman and plaintiffs’ lawyers in the Shearer case or other lawsuits from talking to treating doctors or providing them with negative information about the company or the drug.
“This document was not under seal,” attorney Mark Lanier, who represents plaintiffs in the Neurontin litigation, said in an interview. The e-mail was previously openly filed in federal court in Boston, Lanier said.
During a July trial in Boston over Pfizer’s marketing of Neurontin, Lanier complained to Judge Saris that a private investigator hired by the drugmaker showed up at the home of Dr. David Franklin, an expert witness slated to testify for Lanier’s client.
Saris later verbally issued a restraining order barring the investigator from contacting Franklin in that case or any future trials, according to court dockets. “There was no basis for Pfizer to send a private investigator to his home the night before he was scheduled to testify,” she said in an Aug. 12 order.
New York-based Pfizer faces about 1,200 lawsuits claiming its Neurontin increases the risk of suicide. Pfizer disputes any connection between suicide and Neurontin use.
The first Neurontin trial ended the day after opening statements when the family of Susan Bulger, who killed herself in 2003, dropped the case. Egilman served as a spokesman for the Bulger family.
Pfizer said in the motion that Egilman had previously been sanctioned by a federal judge in New York for disclosing confidential documents in lawsuits brought against Eli Lilly & Co. over its antipsychotic medication Zyprexa.
Egilman helped to provide sealed documents to a New York Times reporter, U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein said in a 2007 ruling, ordering Egilman and a lawyer in Alaska, James Gottstein, to return the papers to Lilly. Weinstein called the revelation of sealed documents “unprincipled.”
Neurontin’s 2008 sales of $387 million represented 0.8 percent of Pfizer’s total revenue, which included $12 billion for the cholesterol pill Lipitor, the world’s biggest-selling drug.
Pfizer’s Warner-Lambert unit paid $430 million in 2004 to resolve off-label marketing allegations involving Neurontin by the U.S. Justice Department.
Egilman also provided information to Dr. Catapano-Friedman about this settlement and a $2.3 billion settlement by Pfizer this month over federal allegations of off-label marketing of the pain medication Bextra and three other drugs, Pfizer said.
Judge Saris is overseeing all federal-court litigation over Neurontin, which includes product-liability claims like the Shearer family’s and suits by insurance companies and consumers seeking to recoup money spent on the drug.
The case is Shearer v. Pfizer Inc., 1:07-cv-11428, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts (Boston). The suit is part of In Re Neurontin Marketing, Sales Practices and Products Liability Litigation, MDL 1629.
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