Federal prosecutors in U.S. district court in Boston on Tuesday filed charges against the former sales director of biotechnology company Serono, claiming the man illegally bribed doctors in New York City to write prescriptions for the company's AIDS wasting drug Serostim, The Boston Globe reports. Adam Stupak, formerly a New York regional sales director for Serono, was charged after he agreed to cooperate with the U.S. attorney's office in an ongoing grand jury investigation into the company's sales practices. The company also is under investigation by legal authorities in California, Florida, Maryland, and New York as to whether the company violated false claim acts and antikickback laws, which prohibit drug companies from offering incentives to doctors to prescribe a drug covered by the government. Serostim, a human growth hormone, is prescribed to HIV patients to treat AIDS-related wasting. It is covered by Medicaid as well as by several AIDS Drug Assistance Programs.
Stupak is charged with three counts of bribery and could face up to 15 years in prison and $225,000 in fines. According to the charges, Stupak was one of six sales directors who met in Boston in March 1999 to discuss how to boost sales of Serostim. Company managers allegedly required the sales directors to identify the highest-prescribing physicians in each of their regions and offer financial incentives to boost prescriptions in order to meet a sales goal of $6 million in six days. Part of the alleged bribes include offers of an all-expenses-paid trip to the Third International Conference on Nutrition and HIV Infection in Cannes, France, in April 1999, according to court documents. Stupak allegedly offered the free trip to three New York City HIV specialists, identified only as "O," "G," and "W" in court papers, if they would write at least 10 additional prescriptions for Serostim.
Stupak's attorney says his client was ordered by the company management to offer the prescription incentives and was not acting on his own. A spokesman for the company said Serono doesn't comment on ongoing legal matters. U.S. attorney Michael Sullivan said Stupak's actions threatened to undermine the sanctity of the doctor-patient relationship. "When a pharmaceutical employee offers a doctor a kickback to prescribe a drug, that individual invades the trust between the doctor and the patient and deprives the patient of his right to have the doctor act in the patient's best interest in providing quality health care," he said in a statement.