Pfizer Wants CEO Far From Chantix Trial

Pfizer Wants CEO Far From Chantix Trial

October 15th, 2012 // 7:45 pm @


In the latest instance in which a drugmaker is trying to keep its ceo from being questioned in front of a jury, Pfizer is appealing an order by a federal judge who recently granted a request that Ian Read and two other execs at the drugmaker take the witness stand in a lawsuit over the safety controversy surrounding the Chantix pill for quitting smoking.

Last week, US District Judge Inge Johnson ordered Read and two other company executives to testify in person at the trial, which is scheduled to begin October 22 in Florence, Alabama (read this). But Pfizer asked a federal appeals court to overturn the order because it is “plainly beyond the court’s subpoena power.”

In arguing their case, Pfizer lawyers cite a violation of civil procedure that they maintain “prohibits service of subpoenas on a corporate party’s officer more than
100 miles from the courthouse,” according to court documents (which we have read, but have not yet made a link available). “There is absolutely no overriding need for live testimony here.”

The drugmaker also insists that the execs should not be ordered to court to testify because they have already testified in videotaped depositions and excerpts will be played at the trial, according to the filing. The other execs including Diana Hughes, a vp of worldwide safety strategy and head of the primary care business unit, Carl Wilbanks, a general manager and senior vp.

But lawyers for the family of Mark Whitely argued earlier this month in their own filing that Read is a “crucial witness” and “a key actor with firsthand knowledge” of how Pfizer developed and marketed Chantix, which has been the subject of controversy over links to suicidal ideation and violent behavior. Although Pfizer upgraded the Chantix labeling, the FDA last year maintained the benefits continue to outweigh the risks (see here and here).

Whitely committed suicide in 2007 after taking Chantix, according to court documents. Given that Read has held high-ranking positions at Pfizer for the past several years, “any inconvenience is outweighed by the benefit of allowing the jury to evaluate his testimony in person,” the family lawyers have argued. “Indeed, were Pfizer confident in its defenses, these witnesses would voluntarily come to court to defend Chantix” (read the filing here).

This is the second time in recent weeks in which a drugmaker has fought to keep its ceo off the witness stand. Last month, Johnson & Johnson succeeded in convincing a judge that ceo Alex Gorsky should not have to testify in trial involving its Risperdal antipsychotic pill and links to the development of male breasts (see here). That case and others, however, were recently settled.

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