US Supreme Court rejects Pfizer's appeal over Neurontin marketing verdict

The US Supreme Court on Monday rejected an appeal from Pfizer, upholding a $142 million verdict related to the company's improper marketing of the epilepsy drug Neurontin (gabapentin). The initial verdict stemmed from a 2004 agreement by the drugmaker to pay $430 million to settle allegations in the US that it promoted the therapy for off-label uses, including bipolar disorder, migraines and neuropathic pain.

A jury ruled in 2010 that Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals were damaged by the drugmaker's marketing of the product for off-label uses. The award was later upheld by a district court and earlier this year by an appeals court.

In its appeal, Pfizer asked the Supreme Court to determine whether the lower courts correctly concluded that it could be held liable under the Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). In its arguments, the company asserted that the claims did not demonstrate that its alleged illegal marketing directly affected the number of prescriptions, as the appeals court ruled that insurers could use aggregate data illustrating a connection between Pfizer's promotional spending and the number of off-label prescriptions written by healthcare providers. The previous decisions "invite an unlimited escalation in RICO and related cases against pharmaceutical companies for off-label promotion using the shortcut of aggregate proof," the drugmaker noted.

As a result of the Supreme Court decision, similar claims brought against Pfizer by insurer Aetna and Harden Manufacturing, which were previously dismissed by a district court judge, will be permitted to proceed.

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