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Swiss firm Novartis is being sued by the attorney general’s office in New York, US, for alleged mis-selling of its iron-chelating drug Exjade (deferasirox). The suit also implicates a New York pharmacy, BioScrip, which accepted kickback payments from Novartis in exchange for convincing patients to continue using the drug.
BioScrip has agreed in principle to pay $15 million (£9 million) to reimburse costs to Medicare and Medicaid, the national schemes that help subsidise prescriptions for poorer patients in the US.
The drug is used to remove excess iron from the bodies of patients who require regular blood transfusions. The suit alleges that Novartis offered incentives to the pharmacy to keep patients taking Exjade for as long as possible, and that BioScrip downplayed the drug’s side effects to encourage patients to continue or resume taking it.
‘This arrangement between Novartis and BioScrip was dangerous for patients and is against the law,’ attorney general Eric Schneiderman said in a statement. ‘Our lawsuit against Novartis and our agreement with BioScrip send a clear message: Drug companies cannot pay pharmacies to promote drugs directly to patients.’
The US suit comes alongside an ongoing investigation of Novartis in Japan, where the health ministry has now filed a criminal complaint against the company over allegations of data fabrication in clinical trials relating to its blood pressure drug Diovan (valsartan).
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