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Pfizer: The Drug Giant That Makes Bank from Drugs That Can Kill You

To say that Pfizer has been accused of wrongdoing is like saying BP had an oil spill.
 
 
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The drug company Pfizer is best known for Lipitor, a drug that brings cholesterol down and Viagra, a drug that brings other things up.

But the "world's largest research-based pharmaceutical company" which sits between Goldman Sachs and Marathon Oil on the Fortune 500, is also closely associated with a seemingly never-ending series of scandals.

To say Pfizer's been accused of wrongdoing is like saying BP had an oil spill. Other drug companies have a portfolio of products, Pfizer has a portfolio of scandals including, but not limited to, Chantix, Lipitor, Viagra, Geodon, Trovan, Bextra, Celebrex, Lyrica, Zoloft, Halcion and drugs for osteoarthritis, Parkinson's disease, kidney transplants and leukemia.

During one week in June Pfizer 1) agreed to pull its 10-year-old leukemia drug Mylotarg from the market because it caused more, not less patient deaths 2) Suspended pediatric trials of Geodon two months after the FDA said children were being overdosed 3) Suspended trials of tanezumab, an osteoarthritis pain drug, because patients got worse not better, some needing joint replacements (pattern, anyone?) 4) Was investigated by the House for off-label marketing of kidney transplant drug Rapamune and targeting African-Americans 5) Saw a researcher who helped established its Bextra, Celebrex and Lyrica as effective pain meds, Scott S Reuben, MD, trotted off to prison for research fraud 6) was sued by Blue Cross Blue Shield to recoup money it overpaid for Bextra and other drugs 7) received a letter from Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) requesting its whistleblower policy and 8) had its appeal to end lawsuits by Nigerian families who accuse it of illegal trials of the antibiotic Trovan in which 11 children died, rejected by the Supreme Court. And how was your week?

Nor does Pfizer back down when faced with legal troubles.

Even as it was under the probation of a 5-year Corporate Integrity Agreement (CIA) with Health and Human Services for withholding $20 million in Lipitor rebates owed to Medicaid in 2002, it off-label marketed its seizure drug Neurontin and entered into another CIA in 2004.

Worse, it bought Warner-Lambert in 2000, which made Neurontin, knowing the drug's marketing practices were under criminal investigation. (And knowing its Rezulin had been withdrawn.)

And even as it entered into its 2004 CIA for Neurontin, it was off-label marketing the seizure drug Lyrica, called Son of Neurontin, and three other meds, and had to enter into a third CIA, last year's $2.3 billion Bextra settlement which was the largest health care fraud settlement in US history.

The same day the settlement news broke, Pfizer announced it bought the drug giant Wyeth despite its thicket of Fen-Phen heart valve suits and Prempro cancer suits.

And there was more "bring 'em on" chutzpah.

After Vioxx and Pfizer's Bextra were withdrawn from the market for cardiovascular risks, Pfizer sought FDA approval for its Celebrex, the last legal COX-2 inhibitor, also suspected of cardiovascular risks, for use in children as young as two.

And in June, days before Pfizer suspended development of the osteoarthritis drug tanezumab for worsening joints, it touted the drug as "well-tolerated."

As a company, Pfizer, based in New York City with research headquarters in Groton, CT, looks better from the outside than the inside. Its Pac-Man like acquisition of drug companies, Warner-Lambert, Pharmacia (Searle, Upjohn), SUGEN, Vicuron, Rinat and Wyeth (also creating the world's biggest animal drug company) has created a silo structure in which the company's 90,000 employees in 90 countries feel unconnected to a corporate heartbeat. Loyalty is rare as employees in absorbed companies bought for their products alone fear getting pfired and 14,000 scientists bemoan that the company's biggies like Lipitor, Celebrex, Neurontin, Zithromax, Zyrtec and now Wyeth's Prempro weren't created inhouse.