Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Jury Reaches Verdict in South Carolina Attorney General's Lawsuit Against Johnson & Johnson

Yesterday I posted an update about the South Carolina Attorney General's lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson and how the case went to the jury for deliberation (and the link to that post is here). The same reporters who provided news coverage about the closing arguments posted another article late yesterday that the jury reached a verdict, and their conclusion was that Johnson & Johnson violated South Carolina's consumer protection laws by sending South Carolina doctors a misleading letter about the safety and effectiveness of the anti-psychotic drug Risperdal.

A link to the article can be found here, and a cut and paste of it is below. (Thanks again to and these reporters for the coverage).

J&J’s Risperdal Letter Violated Consumer Law, Jury Finds

By Jef Feeley and Gary Henderson - Mar 22, 2011 7:23 PM ET

A Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) unit violated consumer-protection laws by sending South Carolina doctors a misleading letter about the safety and effectiveness of the antipsychotic drug Risperdal, a jury concluded.

Jurors in state court in Spartanburg, South Carolina, deliberated more than six hours before finding today that J&J’s Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals unit engaged in “unfair and deceptive acts” by sending a 2003 letter touting Risperdal as better and safer than competing drugs to more than 7,000 doctors across the state. A judge will decide later whether the drugmaker should pay $360 million in penalties over the mailings.

“The verdict they handed down is just and speaks the truth,” John White, a Spartanburg-based lawyer representing the state, said in an interview. Jurors also found that J&J warning label information on Risperdal was deceptive.

The state’s case centered on drug-safety claims that New Brunswick, New Jersey-based J&J and Janssen made in November 2003 correspondence to about 700,000 doctors across the U.S., including 7,200 in South Carolina.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration responded with a warning letter saying J&J made false and misleading claims that minimized the potentially fatal risks of diabetes and overstated the drug’s superiority to competitors’ products.

‘Acted Responsibly’

“We are disappointed,” Greg Panico, a J&J spokesman, said in a statement. “Janssen acted responsibly and believes it did not violate” South Carolina law, he said.

South Carolina officials argued in the case that J&J sent the letter to protect billions of dollars in sales of the antipsychotic drug.

Risperdal’s global sales peaked at $4.5 billion in 2007 and declined after the company lost patent protection. Risperdal generated $3.4 billion in sales in 2008, or 5.4 percent of J&J’s total sales, according to company filings. Sales of the drug fell to $527 million last year, J&J said in a January earnings report.

Risperdal Consta, the long-acting version of the antipsychotic drug, generated $1.5 billion in sales last year for J&J.

The case is the third of about 10 state lawsuits to be considered by jurors over J&J’s Risperdal marketing campaigns. In June, J&J won dismissal of Pennsylvania’s suit alleging the company hid the drug’s diabetes risk and tricked regulators into paying millions more than they should have for the medicine.

Louisiana Verdict

A Louisiana jury ordered the drugmaker in October to pay $257.7 million in damages to that state for making misleading claims about Risperdal’s safety. A judge later added $73 million in legal fees to the award.

A West Virginia judge in a 2009 non-jury trial awarded $3.95 million, finding the company misled doctors about the risks and benefits of Risperdal. The state dropped its Risperdal claim after J&J won an appeal, company officials said in February.

Under South Carolina’s unfair trade practices law, Janssen can be fined as much as $5,000 for each Risperdal letter sent to South Carolina doctors. Judge Roger Couch will decide the financial-penalty issue after an April 18th hearing.

“After the judge makes a determination as to damages, we will consider our options,” Panico said in his statement.

The case is State of South Carolina v. Janssen Pharmaceuticals, 2007-CP-4201438, Circuit Court for Spartanburg County, South Carolina (Spartanburg).

To contact the reporters on this story: Jef Feeley in Wilmington, Delaware, at ; Gary Henderson in Spartanburg, South Carolina at .

To contact the editor responsible for this story: David E. Rovella at .

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