It paid nearly $1.2 billion in criminal fines for the way it pushed Bextra – the largest fine the U.S. government has ever collected from a drug company. It paid a billion dollars more to settle a batch of civil suits – although it denied wrongdoing – on allegations that it illegally promoted 12 other drugs. In all, Pfizer, the world’s biggest drug company, lost the equivalent of three months’ profit.
The story began in 2001, when Pfizer’s painkilling drug Bextra was about to hit the market. The drug was part of a revolutionary class of painkillers known as Cox-2 inhibitors that were supposed to be safer than generic drugs, but at 20 times the price of ibuprofen.
Pfizer and its marketing partner, Pharmacia, planned to sell Bextra as a treatment for acute pain, the kind you have after surgery. But in November 2001, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Bextra was not safe for patients at high risk of heart attacks and strokes.
The FDA approved Bextra only for arthritis and menstrual cramps. It rejected the drug in higher doses for acute, surgical pain. Continue reading