Pfizer and U.S. Settle Bextra, Others Probes

Bextra in bottles.January 27, 2009. Pfizer Inc., the drug maker that yesterday said it would acquire rival Wyeth for $68 billion, took a $2.3 billion charge for a record settlement of U.S. investigations into improper marketing of its Bextra painkiller and other drugs.

Pfizer reached an agreement with the U.S. Lawyer in Massachusetts to "resolve previously disclosed investigations" regarding Bextra and "other open investigations," the New York-based company said yesterday in a statement. Pfizer didn't disclose details. Pfizer's fourth-quarter earnings dropped 90 percent because of the charge, the company said.

The settlement is the largest for claims of off-label marketing practices, dwarfing the previous record of $1.42 billion paid earlier this month by Eli Lilly & Co. over its anti-psychotic drug Zyprexa, said Patrick Burns of Taxpayers Against Fraud, a Washington advocacy group. The settlement foreshadows resolutions of other pending investigations into other drug makers, Burns said.

The settlement is an "agreement in principle to resolve government allegations of past off-label practices," Pfizer spokesmen Christopher Loder said. He declined to comment on what other investigations were covered by the agreement. The company recalled Bextra in 2005 over a rare skin condition.

"Resolution brings closure to these matters and enables us to strengthen our focus on the research and development of new medicines," Loder said in a phone interview.