Johnson & Johnson persuaded a Philadelphia judge on Monday to throw out the Pennsylvania government's suit alleging that the drugmaker hid health risks of its antipsychotic drug Risperdal and tricked the state into paying millions more than it should have for the medicine.
The state contended in Common Pleas Court that it was paying a premium - as much as $13 a pill for Risperdal, as opposed to 50 cents per tablet for comparable medication - after being told that Johnson & Johnson's drug was more effective and safer. Risperdal was being provided to the poor and the elderly covered by state-sponsored health programs.
The state, claiming it overspent about $140 million, was seeking reimbursement from Janssen Pharmaceutica Inc., a subsidiary of New Brunswick, N.J.-based Johnson & Johnson.
Janssen had denied misleading Pennsylvania about Risperdal.
"We are pleased with the judge's decision," Janssen spokesman Greg Panico said. "The evidence presented by the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that Janssen had committed any fraud on the Commonwealth. Janssen has always been committed to ethical business practices."
Fletch Trammell of the Texas-based firm Bailey, Perrin, Bailey L.L.P., which is representing the state, said in an e-mailed comment: "I'm obviously disappointed in the ruling. "We will appeal.
"As Her Honor noted, Pennsylvania law poses unique challenges in cases of this kind. If upheld on appeal, it may be the case that fraud on the largest scale in Pa. is not actionable. Janssen committed fraud. We are anxious to show that evidence to judges and juries in the other states we represent later this year."
Common Pleas Court Judge Frederica Massiah-Jackson ended the trial Monday by granting a motion for a nonsuit after lawyers for the state presented a week's worth of testimony to jurors, Bloomberg reported. Massiah-Jackson ruled from the bench, and a written opinion was expected later, lawyers said.
Risperdal was part of a new generation of antipsychotics introduced in the early 1990s to treat severe mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Risperdal was also prescribed for a variety of other ailments for which it had not been approved, including dementia, aggression, and behavior problems.
Such unapproved applications for a drug are known as "off-label uses." They are acceptable if prescribed by doctors. The drug manufacturer, however, is not permitted by the FDA to market products for off-label uses.
Nine other states are suing over the drug. Some of those suits involve allegations that the company marketed its Risperdal for off-label use, but that was not a part of Pennsylvania's case.
Risperdal generated $3.4 billion in sales in 2008, or 5.4 percent of sales, and it was one of J&J's biggest sellers before its patent protection expired.