As one teenager seeks justice, the Risperdal battle continues this week as sales representatives testify that the company’s top officials did in fact know and even encourage their employees to promote the drug for uses not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
One former Janssen Pharmaceuticals sales representative, who was promoted because of his success in selling the antipsychotic drug Risperdal, told a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court jury Monday that he and his team were simply following orders from the top of the company.
“Janssen wanted Risperdal to be a $1 billion drug, and that led to how we would communicate with our customers,” said Tone Jones, referring to doctors who would prescribe the drug to patients. Jones was a sales representative for Janssen and Risperdal.
According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, The jury of eight men and four women will decide whether J&J owes money to the family of a 17-year-old from Texas who was prescribed the drug when he was 5 and started growing breasts at age 12. Judge Mark Bernstein told the jury he expected the case to last about three weeks.
Johnson & Johnson, the parent company of Janssen, faces hundreds of individual lawsuits alleging harm to patients, but it also faces — or has paid to settle — multiple state and federal cases involving inappropriate promotion of Risperdal.
The drug was approved in 1993, but only to treat adults with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, which have small populations, and that makes generating huge profits difficult. Doctors can legally prescribe anything, but drug companies can’t promote a drug for anything not on the official FDA-approved label. But apparently based on the lawsuits, Janssen didn’t play by the rules.
J&J attorney Laura Smith dismissed that idea and encouraged jurors not to view the case as one of a multinational corporation ignoring federal law and patient safety in pursuit of profit, but as a case of a boy with multiple mental problems who was genuinely helped by the drug and had minimal side effects.
“Risperdal was a very good choice” for the boy’s three physicians, Smith told the jurors.
Smith later told the jury that if any Janssen personnel had been found promoting drugs for unapproved uses, they would have been fired.
Former Sales Rep Jones testified that he did not know of anyone who was fired for promoting the off-label use of Risperdal. In fact, Jones testified that he received bonuses for promoting the drug for off-label use.[hr]