J&J CEO Alex Gorsky talks Risperdal, via deposition, with lawyers nearby

Johnson & Johnson Chief Executive Office Alex Gorsky was proud enough of helping to boost Risperdal sales to include the numbers on his resume at one point, according to court filings, but he is trying to hard to avoid talking about the antipsychotic drug on the witness stand in front of a jury in a trials scheduled for the next several weeks in Philadelphia.

On Sept. 10, with a jury waiting in Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, J&J settled a case with a man who claimed he grew breasts after being prescribed Risperdal as a child, rather than risk having a judge rule that Gorsky must testify.

Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky

The 60-page transcript of Gorsky's deposition in the individual suit filed by Aron Banks in Philadelphia was a publicly-available exhibit in the case.

Gorsky was ordered to give a deposition in that case, just as he was in the Texas whistle-blower lawsuit brought by former Pennsylvania investigator Allen Jones, which ended after six days of trial with J&J paying $158 million to settle.

In Sunday's Inquirer (link here), Jones discussed how he was rebuffed and fired by Pennsylvania's Office of Inspector General in 2004, but the new information was how he offered to help his home state again in 2011 and was ignored a second time.

In that story, OIG Inspector General Kenya Mann Faulkner declined comment through a spokesman. Gov. Tom Corbett was elected Attorney General for the first time in November 2004, but opted to ignore Jones' information and not to file suit as AGs in Texas and and other states did.

Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley acknowledged Friday that the office received Jones' second offer, but said it chose not to do anything with it because of two other ongoing cases against J&J.

The first case Harley referred to was the 36-state joint effort against J&J, which settled Aug. 30 for $181 million, of which $8.4 million went to Pennsylvania. The other was the ill-fated 2007 Pennsylvania Medicaid case against J&J, in which then-Gov. Ed Rendell's Office of General Counsel farmed out the legal work and that firm chose to ignore Jones' information that proved so valuable to Texas.

What connects these dots?

The Philadelphia law firm of Drinker, Biddle & Reath, LLP.

Drinker, Biddle attorneys were with Gorsky during the deposition and have represented J&J in the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court cases.

Drinker, Biddle also represented J&J when it beat the state of Pennsylvania's individual Medicaid lawsuit, most recently in Commonwealth Court.

Drinker, Biddle also represented J&J in the 36-state Risperdal litigation.

And, as colleague Bob Warner wrote in Sunday's Inquirer via the Heard in the Hall blog, Drinker, Biddle was just hired by Gov. Corbett's Office of General Counsel for up to $75,000 of legal work on voting rights ID cards and represented Corbett when he needed legal help in 2004 to keep the identity of a big-money campaign donor secret until after the election. A link to that blog post is here.

As for Gorsky, Drinker, Biddle attorneys fought the deposition and then spent 10 hours with him preparing.

Pharmaceutical industry veterans might remember - and dismiss as normal practice - episodes from 2000-02 discussed in deposition. But regular people who serve on juries might not find them so acceptable, and plaintiffs attorneys Stephen Sheller and Brian McCormick hope to use much of that.

For example, the jury would hear about Dr. Joseph Biederman, the Harvard Medical School professor and Massachusetts General Hospital pediatric psychiatrist who gained fame - and criticism - for advocating the greater use of pharmaceuticals to treat children with perceived mential illness long before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved in still-limited ways, drugs like Risperdal for children. Biederman was exposed in 2008 by Sen. Charles Grassley (R.-Iowa) for not reporting payments from drug companies and the stories got a lot of attention then.

And they would be replayed. The jurors would learn that Risperdal was only approved for adults with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder in 2001, but because that has a limited number of patients, J&J has been accused of inappropriate promotion of the drug for uses not approved by the FDA.

In the deposition, McCormick walks Gorsky through Biederman's one page letter, dated Dec. 7, 2001, requesting $500,000 payment to start what became the Johnson & Johnson Center for the Study of Pediatric Psychopathology. Gorsky says in the deposition that he approved that payment.

Any chance J&J was trying to buy its way to an endorsement for greater use of Risperdal from Biederman and by extension, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard, or at least wider diagnosis and treatment of child and adolescent mental disorders?

"I think our goal was to, yes, have better diagnostic criteria for children who are in need of treatment and to have better therapeutic options for children who are in need of treatment," Gorsky said, according to the transcript of the deposition.

The jury likely would then hear McCormick, as he did in the deposition, discuss with Gorsky a document called "Annual Report 2002: The Johnson & Johnson Center for Pediatric Psychopathology at Massachusetts General Hospital."

Biederman was the director of the center and one of the goals of its research, according to the report, was that "it will move forward the commercial goals of J&J."

A link to the PDF transcript of Gorsky's deposition is here.