Despite the fact that it hadn’t yet received FDA approval for use in children and
adolescents, Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, early last decade ordered drug sales representatives in the field to “aggressively” market the antipsychotic drug Risperdal to doctors treating patients from that very segment of the population.
That was the testimony Tuesday of former sales rep Tone Jones, who ended up being promoted due to his success in advancing the companies’ collective agenda.
Robert Hilliard, a Texas attorney who is representing a minor plaintiff known only as “A.B.,” alongside lawyers with Philadelphia-based Sheller P.C., asked Jones what would be the most accurate description of the drug companies’ national directive to Jones and others like him regarding Risperdal, to which Jones responded the goal was to focus on how the pill worked to treat certain symptoms, not diagnoses, and to really try to “expand Risperdal utilization for these symptoms.”
“A.B.,” a 17-year-old from Texas, is the plaintiff in the case against Johnson & Johnson and Janssen, two pharmaceutical manufacturers accused of the off-label marketing of their drug, Risperdal, which was originally designed to treat adults with schizophrenia.
The plaintiff’s complaint, originally filed in January 2010, alleges the defendants illegally promoted Risperdal as being safe to treat children and teenagers with so-called “mood disorders,” which could include the likes of Autism, Asperger’s Disorder, bipolar disorder and depression.
As a result of his taking Risperdal for the better part of a decade, A.B. developed a condition known as gynecomastia, or female breast growth in males, his complaint alleges.
The young man, who has Asperger’s Disorder, which is on the Autism spectrum, had to have surgery to eliminate his breast tissue.
The plaintiff looks to be compensated for the companies’ alleged illegal activity.
This case is the first of about 86 Risperdal mass tort cases set to play out in front of a jury at Philadelphia’s Common Pleas Court.
Another case settled about two weeks ago just prior to the start of trial.
On Tuesday, which marked the second day of trial before a 12-member jury in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Mark Bernstein’s second-floor courtroom, Hilliard, the plaintiff’s attorney, questioned Jones, the former sales representative, about the defendants’ goals when it came to Risperdal.
Jones said the goal was simple: push Risperdal as a treatment for children and teens who suffer from these various mood disorders.
The instruction came despite the fact that large incidents of gynecomastia began to arise, Jones testified.
One trial exhibit displayed by Hilliard was a letter to Jones that showed the former employee was awarded thousands of dollars in bonuses for his pushing Risperdal to doctors.
“Basically, the company wanted to grow Risperdal to a billion dollar drug annually and we were doing that by selling symptoms,” Jones said on the witness stand. “There was a strategic approach on how we were going to do that.”
Jones, who began working for Janssen in 1998, even said that “coupons” were given to financially strapped families in order to sway them to get their children started on a Risperdal treatment.
Jones described these coupons as limited free trial offers.
“It was a company directive so we had to execute flawlessly in the field,” Jones responded when questioned by Hilliard about Risperdal’s marketing strategies.
Jones said he and others were instructed to “sell on symptoms,” and not just diagnoses, “because it expanded the patient tide for Risperdal.”
The problem was that during this time, many of the defendants’ physician customers began to notice a rise in cases of gynecomastia, Jones testified, with many of the incidents occurring in males under age 18.
Nevertheless, Jones said, at the end of the day, his employer wanted Jones and other sales reps to make sure the doctors would keep their patients on Risperdal, “because we had stiff competition.”
Asked what would most likely have occurred if information about side effects was not covered up by sales reps when speaking to physician customers, Jones responded, “well, it probably would not have reached a billion dollars.”
“We were trained to minimize the risks of the potential side effects of Risperdal,” Jones said on the stand.
Jones said while still working for the company, he was informed that Risperdal sales had reached $2 billion annually by 2007.
There will be a break in the trial on Wednesday for the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, with testimony resuming Thursday.