Pfizer Loses Lawsuit over Database

January 8, 2009
Pharmaceutical Technology Editors
ePT--the Electronic Newsletter of Pharmaceutical Technology

A California jury ordered Pfizer (New York) to pay $38 million to the Ischemia Research and Education Foundation (IREF), a medical-research nonprofit group, for stealing trade secrets to develop its "Bextra" analgesic.

San Francisco (Dec. 24)-A California jury ordered Pfizer (New York) to pay $38 million to the Ischemia Research and Education Foundation (IREF), a medical-research nonprofit group, for stealing trade secrets to develop its “Bextra” analgesic. A Santa Clara County Superior Court jury reached the verdict on Dec. 22, 2008, according to an Associated Press (AP) WorldStream story.

IREF filed the lawsuit against Pfizer in 2004. The suit alleged that Pfizer wanted to use IREF’s database in 2002 for clinical trials of the Bextra treatment for acute arthritis pain. Pfizer and the foundation could not agree on terms for use of the database, and IREF claimed that the company struck a deal with Ping Hsu, a lead statistician at IREF. Hsu provided the data without approval, according to AP.

Jeffrey Frenster, the jury foreman, told The San Jose Mercury News that a great deal of evidence persuaded jurors that Pfizer had improperly obtained much medical research that had taken decades to develop. Jurors concluded that Pfizer had conspired with Hsu to use the data without paying tens of millions of dollars through a contract. IREF also asserted that Pfizer and Hsu destroyed evidence when confronted about the data theft, according to The San Jose Mercury News.

Mark Geragos, one of IREF’s lawyers, said Pfizer and Hsu could face punitive damages that would increase the penalty to more than $120 million, according to AP. Attorneys in the case are expected to appear for post-trial motions before Judge Gregory Ward on Jan. 16, 2009. Ward will decide whether to assess more damages.

Dennis Mangano, head of IREF, said that spending $15 million in legal fees instead of accepting a financial settlement was worth it, according to AP.

Pfizer said it would appeal the decision. “The company stands by the belief that its conduct was proper,” the company said in a written statement. “Pfizer continues to believe that it was unjustly caught in a crossfire between [the foundation] and one of its former employees.”

In April 2005, Pfizer pulled Bextra off the market at the request of the US Food and Drug Administration because of concerns that it posed a heart risk.