Eli Lilly & Co. agreed to pay $22.5 million to settle a federal lawsuit filed by the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office over the popular anti-psychotic drug Zyprexa. In the settlement, the Indianapolis-based company agreed to pay $15.75 million to West Virginia and $6.75 million to lawyers who represented the state. The settlement says $14.75 million will be used to fund behavioral health care, and the remaining $1 million will go to consumer protection.
Zyprexa is an “anti-psychotic” drug approved to treat schizophrenia and acute mania. At about $2.50/pill, it is a big money maker for Eli Lilly, somewhere on the order of $4 billion a year. Zyprexa is the the world’s third best-selling drug.
By themselves these facts are not controversial. However, it seems that some internal memos indicate that Eli Lilly knew that the drug raised the risk of diabetes in patients and didn’t act appropriately. They may have even misreported clinical trial data about blood-sugar risks to doctors.
According to several stories in the New York Times, Lilly’s own published data, which it told its sales representatives to play down in conversations with doctors, has shown that 30 percent of patients taking Zyprexa gain 22 pounds or more after a year on the drug, and some patients have reported gaining 100 pounds or more. But Lilly was concerned that Zyprexa’s sales would be hurt if the company was more forthright about the fact that the drug might cause unmanageable weight gain or diabetes, according to the documents, which cover the period 1995 to 2004.
There are articles in the New York Times that cover these memos:
- “Eli Lilly Said to Play Down Risk of Top Pill” by Alex Berenson <http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/17/business/17drug.html>
- “Drug Files Show Maker Promoted Unapproved Use” by Alex Berenson <http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/18/business/18drug.html>
- “Disparity Emerges in Lilly Data on Schizophrenia Drug” by Alex Berenson <http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/21/business/21drug.html>
- Also see psychrights.org for a complete account of these memos and clippings of the original NY Times articles.
It appears that this settlement is simply part of a larger national business decision that will allows Eli Lilly to continue to sell a highly profitable drug in America. If you check the Internet, you will find similiar settlements with state AGs all over the country. It is hard not to be cynical about this type of corporate behavior.