* U.S. probing whether sales violated anti-kickback law
* Probe also examines possible false claims
* Involves Medicare, Medicaid payments to third parties
By Ransdell Pierson
NEW YORK, Nov 6 Federal officials are
investigating how Abbott Laboratories Inc (ABT.N) has marketed
the epilepsy drug Depakote, the company said on Friday, the
latest U.S. probe of its sales practices.
The suburban Chicago drugmaker said in a regulatory filing
that the federal prosecutor for the Western District of
Virginia is conducting the probe for the U.S. Justice
Investigators are examining whether Abbott's marketing of
Depakote violated civil or criminal laws, including the Federal
False Claims Act and an anti-kickback law related to
reimbursement by the federal Medicare and Medicaid insurance
programs to third parties, the filing said.
A spokeswoman for the Justice Department declined to
comment on the matter.
"We are cooperating with the investigation," said a
spokeswoman for Abbott, who declined to comment further.
Depakote for years has been one of Abbott's biggest-selling
products, but its sales plunged 71 percent to $92 million in
the third quarter due to competition from less-expensive
generic forms of the drug.
The oral medicine is approved to treat various types of
seizure disorders and manic phases of bipolar disorder.
The Justice Department in recent years has reached
settlements with a number of large drugmakers accused of
improperly selling drugs for unapproved uses and making
improper payments to doctors prescribing their drugs.
In 2001, a joint venture between Abbott and Japanese
drugamaker Takeda (4502.T) -- called TAP Pharmaceuticals
Products -- paid a then-record $885 million and pleaded guilty
to a criminal charge of conspiring with doctors to bill
government insurers for free samples of prostate cancer drug
Two years later, Abbott's CG Nutritionals subsidiary
pleaded guilty to obstructing an investigation of allegations
that it defrauded Medicare and Medicaid. The unit was required
to pay $200 million in criminal penalties and $400 million in
The CG Nutritionals investigation involved the sale of
enteral products -- devices used to pump special foods into the
stomachs and digestive systems of patients who, because of
disease or some other disorder, are not able to ingest food in
a normal manner.
(Reporting by Ransdell Pierson; additional reporting by James
Vicini; editing by John Wallace)