Johnson & Johnson’s incoming CEO, Alex Gorsky, could be ordered to give sworn testimony in a Risperdal lawsuit, according to US government lawyers.
J&J has declined to make Gorsky available for a deposition in the case, which concerns the alleged payment of ‘kickbacks’ to health provider Omnicare.
The US government claims that millions of dollars paid by J&J to Omnicare as ‘market share rebates’ were inducements to buy and recommend Risperdal.
J&J claims that the rebates and the promotion of Risperdal were ‘common commercial practices’ that did not violate any law.
The case forms part of J&J's ongoing struggle to defend its marketing of the antipsychotic drug in the US against claims that it exaggerated the drug’s benefits and downplayed or concealed its risks.
Risperdal (risperidone) is approved as a treatment for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder in adults and behaviour problems in young people.
The company faces a cluster of lawsuits, both civil and criminal, based on allegations that it over-promoted the drug.
The US government has claimed that from 1999 to 2004, J&J gave Omnicare “market share rebate payments conditioned on Omnicare engaging in ‘active intervention’ programs for J&J drugs,” which it provided to nursing homes.
Gorsky succeeds Bill Weldon as CEO of J&J on April 26.
While with J&J subsidiary Janssen, Gorsky “was in a position to know why J&J chose not to inform Omnicare (or members of Janssen’s own sales staff) that, in January 1999, the FDA had warned J&J that marketing Risperdal as safe and effective in the elderly would be false and misleading,” the US filing stated.
Attorney Robert D. Keeling of Sidley & Austin, representing J&J, said that “Mr Gorsky has no reasonable connection to the subject matter of the government’s complaint,” and that the request for his testimony “unnecessarily targets – and thus would unduly harass – J&J’s top executive”.
Omnicare agreed in 2009 to pay $98m to settle civil claims by the US government and various states that it accepted kickbacks from J&J, but the company did not admit liability.