Pharmaceutical maker Allergan PLC has settled a whistle-blower lawsuit brought by two Philadelphia-area ophthalmologists who alleged the company provided paid speaking engagements, free business consulting, and other services as an inducement for physicians to prescribe its expensive eye-care medications.
The suit was brought by Herbert J. Nevyas and Anita Nevyas-Wallace, a father and daughter team of ophthalmologists based in Bala Cynwyd. They alleged that Allergan offered services ranging from practice-group management advice, human-resources assistance, and continuing education in a kickback scheme aimed at stimulating sales of eye-care drugs Restasis and Acular LS, among others.
Allergan agreed to pay $13 million to settle the case, and the funds will be shared by Nevyas and Nevyas-Wallace, the federal government, and 19 states involved in the action. Under federal law, Nevyas and his daughter may claim up to 30 percent of the settlement amount.
Marc Raspanti, the physicians’ lawyer and a partner at the Center City firm of Pietragallo Gordon Alfano Bosick & Raspanti, said they had “the integrity and courage to come forward. Their efforts saved American taxpayers many millions of dollars.”
Allergan, through a spokesman, declined on Friday to comment.
The lawsuit alleged that the effort to induce the physicians to prescribe Allergan drugs began in 2009, when they received an invitation to attend a “Dry-Eye Dinner” for physicians at the Maia restaurant in Villanova. There, Allergan representatives laid out a variety of strategies for treating patients with the condition and how Allergan might help them market their practices. Restasis is approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of chronic dry-eye condition.
Bob Teale, an Allergan employee, suggested that physicians brand their practices as a “Dry-Eye Center for Excellence” and Teale offered scripts to physicians for discussions with patients.
According to the complaint, Teale also described a proprietary website called Allergan Access where physicians, for an annual fee, would obtain advice on billing matters, human resources issues, marketing materials, and other information.
In an email the following day to Nevyas and his daughter, Teale said, “My objective is to help practices become more profitable while making the business of managing a practice more rewarding and fun.”
The complaint also describes a Sept. 18, 2009, meeting between Teale and the physicians in which Teale offered the services of Allergan’s business adviser group, which provided advice to physicians on how to manage their practices. According to the complaint, Teale went on to say that he expected them to “show their appreciation” by prescribing Allergan products. Another Allergan representative, on a separate occasion, offered to enroll Nevyas-Wallace in the company’s paid-speakers’ bureau, but said that she would need to be a “really good writer of prescriptions.”
The action was brought under the federal False Claims Act and a variety of state statutes, which allow citizens to sue on behalf of the government when they have information showing that taxpayers had been defrauded. Government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid pay billions each year for medications made by pharmaceutical companies like Allergan.