The drug company marketed some of its drugs for off-label uses and paid kickbacks to incentivise medics to prescribe them

American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. has been fined $2.3bn to resolve criminal charges arising from its illegal promotion of drugs.

The fine is the largest health care fraud settlement in the history of the US Department of Justice.

The drug company pleaded guilty to fraud in relation to its promotion of Bextra, an anti-inflammatory drug that Pfizer pulled from the market in 2005.

Pfizer promoted the sale of Bextra for several uses and dosages that the Food and Drug administration specifically declined to approve due to safety concerns.

The company will pay a criminal fine of $1.195bn, the largest criminal fine ever imposed in the United States for any matter. One of its subsidiaries, Pharmacia & Upjohn, will also forfeit $105m.

Pfizer was also fined $1bn over civil charges that the company illegally promoted four drugs, Bextra, Geodon (an anti psychotic drug), Zyvox (an antibiotic) and Lyrica (an anti epileptic drug). Pfizer allegedly paid kickbacks to healthcare providers to induce them to prescribe these medications.

This is the largest civil fraud settlement in history against a pharmaceutical company.

As part of the settlement, Pfizer also has agreed to enter into an expansive corporate integrity agreement with the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Six whistleblowers will receive payments totaling more than $102m from the federal share of the civil recovery.

‘Today’s landmark settlement is an example of the Department of Justice’s ongoing and intensive efforts to protect the American public and recover funds for the federal treasury and the public from those who seek to earn a profit through fraud,’ said Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli

‘Illegal conduct and fraud by pharmaceutical companies puts the public health at risk, corrupts medical decisions by health care providers, and costs the government billions of dollars,’ added Tony West, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division.

Mike Loucks, acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, said: ‘Pfizer violated the law over an extensive time period. Furthermore, at the very same time Pfizer was in our office negotiating and resolving the allegations of criminal conduct by its then newly acquired subsidiary, Warner-Lambert, Pfizer was itself in its other operations violating those very same laws. The enormous fine demonstrates that such blatant and continued disregard of the law will not be tolerated.’