City Takes On Big Pharma

by Melissa Bailey | October 14, 2008 3:01 PM | | Comments (7)

IMG_1699.JPGThe city paid over $400,000 for employees to take an anti-cholesterol drug that “doesn’t work.” Now John Ward wants the money back.

Ward (pictured), City Hall’s top lawyer, is seeking an outside law firm to sue pharmaceutical giants Merck and Schering-Plough over their their allegedly ineffective cholesterol drugs, Zetia and Vytorin.

The two drugs became top sellers, creating $5 billion in sales in 2007 alone. They were supposed to offer more protection against heart attacks than generic statin drugs.

City workers jumped on the bandwagon. The city spent over $400,000 to buy the drug for people covered by the city employees’ health care plan, according to Ward.

Then, in January, a study came out casting doubts over the drugs. Vytorin is a combination of Zetia and the generic drug Zocor. The study, called the ENHANCE trial, showed Vytorin failed to outperform the generic drug in tackling artery plaque.

“This drug doesn’t work. Period. It just doesn’t work,” Steven Nissen, head of cardiology at the Cleveland Clinic, was quoted as saying when the study came out.

“Schering-Plough stands behind our products, and we will defend ourselves vigorously,” said company spokeswoman Rosemarie Yancosek Tuesday. She noted that Vytorin and Zetia “have consistently demonstrated significant reduction in LDL cholesterol in numerous clinical studies,” and that lowering LDL levels is a “key factor” in lowering cardiovascular risk.

Merck did not respond to comment for this article. “Merck stands behind the safety and efficacy profiles of Zetia and Vytorin,” spokesman Christopher Garland has told the Wall Street Journal. “The Company acted with integrity and in good faith in this trial.”

The trial was done in April 2006, but results weren’t released until January 2008. Congress has < a href="">launched an investigation into the reasons behind the delay.

vytorinphotodata.jpgThe controversy prompted a flood of over 50 class-action lawsuits. Ward caught wind of the controversy and decided to take action, too. On Sept. 26, he put out a Request For Proposals seeking “Legal Services to Recover Excessive Payments of Pharmaceuticals.”

Click here to read the RFP.

The case would be “no win, no pay,” Ward said. That means if the firm wins the case, it gets a percentage of the winnings; if it loses, not a dime.

The “no win, no pay” approach hasn’t been used before by City Hall, at least during Ward’s tenure, he said. “It’s totally different and new.”

Ward said he looked around for class action lawsuits, but didn’t find any that New Haven could latch on to. The city is seeking a firm with experience suing pharmaceuticals companies to take on the case.

The city is accepting proposals for a three-week period ending Oct. 21.

“There are no guarantees,” said Ward, that there’s a firm who wants to take the case, or that the city would win, “but I’m just giving it a shot.”

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Posted by: write&wrong [TypeKey Profile Page] | October 14, 2008 5:24 PM

Is this a joke? Is it the job of the Corp Council to be looking for class action lawsuit to bring? Isn't this the Attorney General's area of interest? Can't we find other more realistic things to work on?

Posted by: Walt [TypeKey Profile Page] | October 14, 2008 5:30 PM

Sounds good, but imo the lawyers hired are likely to get the potential millions, and the City to get little,

Just for the heck of it I signed up on one of those class actions some years ago. Forgot the cause.

'We" won and the payment was in the millions of $$$$.

My share was deemed to be about 27 cents and if I mailed in a release (Postage then, about 39 cents) the lawyers would send me a check for my 27 cent share.

The lawyers would collect several million for their efforts.

That's the way it usually works as I see it., but good luck to the City. Ward may possibly be "of Counsel" to the suing law firm if he is eligible., If so he would than be more likely to make some money than the City or the New Haven taxpayer..

Maybe not, but I hope the City and the taxpayers realize they are not too likely to prosper.

Please pardon my skepticism. Be wary.

I don't claim to be an expert. Maybe they will produce millions like the lawyers for the woman who bought the too-hot coffee at McDonald's, did (Never did learn how much actually wound up in her pocketbook.)

Posted by: Dominic | October 14, 2008 9:24 PM

I don't see the city winning this one. Vytorin does lower LDL, but the study showed that it does not lower risk of MI. It worked in that it did what it proved to do in previous trials. The ENHANCE trial showed that it does not provide additional protection. Note that this drug wasn't found to do harm either.

So really, this isn't a Vioxx-type case. It's just a waste of time, even if it doesn't cost the city anything. It will get people's hopes up, but I don't see it winning.

Posted by: David Streever | October 15, 2008 9:33 AM


that case was very different. The reasons she won, and how much she won, are much simpler. The court had decided to award her a half million but in the end they allowed mcdonalds & the woman to settle, because McDonalds felt 500k was too much.

The funny thing is she initially contacted mcdonalds looking for 20k (she had 3rd degree burns, was hospitalized, required surgery, & was sick for 2 years due to infections--not what TYPICALLY happens when you spill coffee on yourself, is it?). McDonalds offered her $800 instead--charming.

Posted by: Walt [TypeKey Profile Page] | October 15, 2008 1:32 PM

''' and her net after paying the attorneys may have been more if she had accepted the $800, assuming her insurance took care of the hospital costs as mine did when I stupidly knocked just -poured instant coffee in my lap.

You anti-Catholics from another thread may be pleased to know that hot coffee, used properly as I did, is a very effective, Pope-approved birth-control method, at least for a couple of months,


Posted by: chuck | October 15, 2008 3:46 PM

give up on anastasio because an 1800's case the city is incapable of challenging, but go after this. Maybe our atty's could teach the assessor and his subcontractors how to read statute 12-71 so the city wouldn't look like fools when taxing a crane company wrongly. I believe administration officers claimed in the paper the city was following the law, which is sooooo incorrect

Posted by: Exiled Italian Shill | October 16, 2008 5:25 PM

Since the city had to pay it out they have the right to seek remedies and return the public's money. Not a bad idea.

How about another idea. Sue the state for not fully implementing the statutory funding levels like PILOT.

is there a lawyer in the house?

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