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Pfizer drug sales probed
Former Warner-Lambert employee says drugmaker illegally boosted Neurontin sales.
March 14, 2002: 3:34 PM EST

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - A former medical liaison with Warner-Lambert says the drugmaker undertook illegal marketing practices which may have endangered patients, a published report said Thursday.

The New York Times said in a suit against Warner-Lambert, now part of Pfizer Inc., Dr. David P. Franklin alleges the company aggressively marketed epilepsy treatment Neurontin for indications for which it was not approved.

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Doctors may prescribed drugs for any purpose they wish, known as off-label prescribing, but drug companies are not allowed to market drugs for uses not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Mariann Caprino, a spokeswoman for Pfizer (PFE: down $0.11 to $39.94, Research, Estimates), told CNNfn, "We are not aware of any credible evidence that Warner-Lambert employees made false claims about Neurontin. " She declined to elaborate further.

To boost sales, the company illegally marketed Neurontin to doctors for conditions including attention deficit disorder in children, neurological pain and bipolar disorder, Franklin said, according to the Times.

The Times, citing recently unsealed court papers, also reported that Franklin has accused the company of paying doctors to appear as authors of articles on off-label indications for Neurontin that were really written by non-physicians working for Warner-Lambert.

The company aggressively promoted Neurontin for other uses after deciding not to perform clinical tests for new indications because patent protection might soon expire, the paper said.

Also on Thursday, Pfizer said it had paid new Chairman Henry McKinnell a $2.8 million bonus in fiscal 2001 after the world's largest drugmaker performed "outstandingly" against its peers.

An annual shareholder proxy filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission showed McKinnell, who took over the helm on May 1, 2001, received a $1.5 million salary.

The New York-based company said investors buying $100 worth of Pfizer shares in 1996 would have made $202.10 profit by the end of 2001, compared with $114.90 had they invested the same amount in the wider sector, and $66.20 with an S&P 500 stake.

At the beginning of 2002, Pfizer posted a 21 percent rise in fourth-quarter operating earnings to $2.11 billion on stellar pharmaceutical sales, including cholesterol-fighter Lipitor, which Pfizer said is now the world's top-selling medicine.

McKinnell, who has also held the chief executive post since January 2001, received options for 800,000 shares that could be worth $58 million if Pfizer's stock price appreciates 10 percent a year until the options expire in 2011. The options carry an exercise price of $45.34.

The 59-year-old chairman also acquired 310,104 shares through exercising options in 2001 with a "value realized" of $11.4 million.

"Value realized" is the difference between the price McKinnell bought into the option and the market price on the exercise date. The number does not necessarily reflect what he might receive if he sells the shares acquired by the option exercise because the market share price at the time of sale may have changed.  graphic

-- from staff and wire reports