Amgen pays $25 million to settle whistleblower case over kickbacks to long-term care pharmacies

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Biotechnology company Amgen will pay $24.9 million in a settlement over whistleblower allegations that the company paid kickbacks to long-term care pharmacies to increase the use of an anemia drug in nursing homes.

The government joined a case brought against Amgen by an employee in 2011. The whistleblower charged that Amgen paid kickbacks such as grants, honoraria, speaker fees and travel to workers at Omnicare Inc., PharMerica Corp. and Kindred Healthcare Inc. In return, the pharmacies allegedly created “therapeutic interchange” programs to get nursing home residents off competitors' anemia drugs in favor of Amgen's Aranesp (darbepoetin alfa).

Amgen also pressured pharmacists to recommend Aransep for residents who did not have anemia associated with chronic renal failure, and distributed materials and sponsored programs promoting this off-label use of the medication, the whistleblower alleged.

As part of the settlement agreement, Amgen denied all the allegations. The company faced five whistleblower cases related to the marketing and sales of Aransep, and was dismissed from two of them, the company noted in a statement released Tuesday. In Dec. 2012, Amgen settled another of the suits for $762 million, and there is one still pending.

Amgen will pay $17.8 million to the federal government and nearly $7.1 million to state Medicaid programs under the settlement.