* Pfizer ordered to pay $47 million in Neurontin case
* Penalty triples under RICO law
* Pfizer to appeal decision
NEW YORK, March 25 (Reuters) - Pfizer Inc (PFE.N) violated federal racketeering law by improperly promoting the epilepsy drug Neurontin, a Boston jury found on Thursday, and the world’s largest drugmaker was ordered to pay $47 million in damages.
Under federal RICO law (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations act) the penalty is automatically tripled, so the finding will cost Pfizer $141 million.
Pfizer said it would appeal the decision.
The jury agreed with the plaintiffs, Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, that Pfizer had illegally promoted the drug for unapproved uses, such as for migraine headaches, pain and bipolar disorder, for which plaintiffs attorneys argued the drug does not work.
While doctors are free to prescribe medicines as they see fit, drugmakers are only allowed to promote them for uses approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Kaiser was seeking about $100 million in damages and was awarded just under half of that, Pfizer said.
“We are disappointed with the verdict and will pursue post-trial motions and an appeal,” Pfizer spokesman Chris Loder said in a statement. “The verdict and the judge’s rulings are not consistent with the facts and the law.”
In 2004, Pfizer agreed to pay $430 million to federal and state governments and pleaded guilty to criminal charges of illegally marketing Neurontin, a drug the company obtained with its 2000 acquisition of Warner Lambert Corp.
Pfizer contends that the judge improperly allowed details of that case and settlement to be considered by the Boston jury.
The drugmaker also said Kaiser doctors continue to prescribe Neurontin for the so-called off-label uses despite Kaiser attorney contentions that the medicine does not work for those unapproved indications.
“Kaiser itself continues to recommend Neurontin for the same uses they sought recovery for in this case. Kaiser’s own physicians and several of their expert witnesses prescribed Neurontin for their patients based on their sound medical judgment,” Loder said. (Reporting by Bill Berkrot)