Advertisement
  1. News

Biotech company Genzyme to pay $22.3 million in Tampa whistle-blower case

Published Dec. 24, 2013

TAMPA — A Massachusetts-based biotechnology company has agreed to pay $22.28 million to resolve allegations brought by whistle-blowers in Tampa and Miami that it marketed an inappropriate use for a surgery medication, U.S. government attorneys said.

Genzyme, a corporation known for its research into drugs for rare genetic diseases, is paying the settlement in a lawsuit over Seprafilm, a material it manufactures for use in the operating room.

According to court documents, Genzyme sales representatives encouraged doctors to use the product in a manner not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, leading to improper claims for reimbursement from hospitals.

"I think these cases are among the most important that our office handles. Health care fraud is a major problem in our country," said A. Lee Bentley III, acting U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida. "These do serve a very important deterrent effect."

The settlement is the result of a civil suit brought under the federal False Claims Act, a 19th-century law that encourages private citizens to expose fraud by government contractors. Whistle-blowers can file suit on behalf of the government and then share in any financial settlement that results.

The Genzyme action was brought by two company sales representatives in 2009.

The amount of the settlement that will be diverted to the whistle-blowers has not yet been determined. One of the private plaintiffs' attorneys, Barry Cohen of Tampa, said they hope to receive between 23 and 24 percent of the settlement, or about $5.2 million.

"They were pharmaceutical salesmen, and they recognized that this was a potential danger," Cohen said. "They saw other people doing it, and they knew it wasn't right."

Sarah Connors, a spokeswoman for Sanofi, Genzyme's parent company, said that Genzyme cooperated with the government investigation and that the company's sales force no longer markets Seprafilm for the unorthodox procedure that spawned the lawsuit.

"Genzyme did take proactive action to address and prohibit this conduct," she said.

According to court documents, Seprafilm is intended to be applied during open surgery to prevent organs and muscle tissue from sticking together. However, the whistle-blowers and lawyers for the federal government alleged that Genzyme sales representatives taught doctors to use it in less invasive procedures — such as laparoscopic or "keyhole" surgeries — by mixing it into a liquidlike "slurry" that could be injected into the body.

Cohen and Bentley said they were not required to prove in the lawsuit that patients had been harmed, only that this use of the drug was not approved by federal regulators and hence not subject to reimbursement by Medicare and Medicaid.

The hefty Genzyme settlement follows two other large payouts secured in recent years by the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Cohen Law Group, including a $217.5 million settlement from WellCare Health Plans and a $10.17 million settlement from Morton Plant Mease Health Care.

Peter Jamison can be reached at pjamison@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3337. Follow him on Twitter @petejamison.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Zephyrhillls police Officer Timothy Alan Murr II, 22, was arrested Monday on a misdemeanor charge of domestic violence. The police department suspended him with pay pending the completion of the criminal investigation. Pasco County Sheriff's Office
    The officer is accused of grabbing a woman’s wrists. The Zephyrhills Police Department suspended him with pay.
  2. This satellite image shows Hurricane Michael on Oct. 9, 2018, as it enters the Gulf of Mexico. It made landfall near Mexico Beach in the Panhandle as a Category 5 storm. Florida State University professor Wenyuan Fan said the storm probably created "stormquakes" offshore in the gulf, too. [Photo courtesy of the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration]] NOAA
    Analysis of a decade of records shows hurricanes causing seismic activity on continental shelf
  3. Ken Jones, CEO of Third Lake Capital, has sold WingHouse for $18 million to a Jacksonville restaurant company. [Times 2016]
    Tampa’s Third Like Capital now major shareholder in restaurant’s new owners.
  4. Mama is available for adoption. Hernando County Animal Services
    Hernando County shelter pet offerings
  5. The Don CeSar Hotel is caught up in a lawsuit over liquid nitrogen being served and causing injuries at its restaurant. [Times (2011)]
    They say the other side has made inflammatory and misleading statements to the media.
  6. This Mobil Coast gas station at 16055 State Road 52 in Land O Lakes is one of 10 cited in a Florida Department of Environmental Protection lawsuit where inspectors said they found lapses in regularly required tests, maintenance, documentation or other oversight by Brandon-based Automated Petroleum and Energy or its related companies. On Wednesday, the company said the station had already been put back in compliance with state regulations. (Photo via Google street view) Google street view
    The Florida Department of Environmental Protection contends Automated Petroleum and Energy Company failed to do required maintenance or testing at 10 gas stations in the Tampa Bay area and beyond.
  7. FILE - In this Wednesday, July 10, 2019 file photo, 6-year-old elementary school students go through the lunch line in the school's cafeteria in Paducah, Ky. Nearly a million students could lose their automatic eligibility for free school lunches under a Trump administration proposal that's expected to reduce the number of people who get food stamps. In October 2019, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has released an analysis finding as many as 982,000 children could be affected by the change. ELLEN O'NAN  |  AP
    The U.S. Department of Agriculture has released details of an analysis that found that as many as 982,000 children could be affected by the change.
  8. A deputy's Sig Sauer P320, similar to this Glock 19, discharged in the cafeteria of a Wesley Chapel school April 30. The bullet lodged in the wall behind him. The deputy has been fired.
    Cpl. Jonathan Cross was lifting his pistol up and down out of its holster when it went off, Sheriff Chris Nocco said.
  9. FILE - This Dec. 28, 1987 file photo shows former “Tarzan” actor Ron Ely during an interview in Los Angeles. A woman was killed at Ely's Southern California home and sheriff’s deputies fatally shot a suspect on the property, authorities said Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019. A Santa Barbara County sheriff’s office statement does not identify any of those involved but notes that a disabled elderly man living at the home was taken to a hospital for evaluation. The deaths occurred Tuesday night in Hope Ranch, a suburb of luxury homes outside Santa Barbara. REED SAXON  |  AP
    A 911 call after 8 p.m. reported a family disturbance and deputies found a woman who was the victim of an apparent homicide, authorities said.
  10. Officials say the boy was taken to a West Palm Beach hospital, where he died an hour later. PBC Fire Rescue/Twitter
    A man was trying to pull out of the driveway when he felt a bump and then heard screaming.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement