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Abbott To Turn Over E-mails In Gov't Probe

Tue, 04/13/2010 - 12:17pm
Matthew Perrone, AP Business Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A federal judge has ordered drugmaker Abbott Laboratories to hand over thousands of e-mails in connection with a government investigation into whether the company illegally marketed a neurological drug.

Abbott has refused two subpoena requests from the attorney general for the Western District of Virginia, calling the request "overly burdensome." The attorney general requested all e-mails sent by three executives, including Chief Executive Miles White, between 1996 and 2008.

The attorney general is investigating whether Abbott promoted its anti-seizure drug Depakote to control aggression and agitation in seniors, an unapproved use.

North Chicago-based Abbott disclosed the investigation in regulatory filings last fall. Doctors are allowed to prescribe drugs for a variety of uses, but companies can only promote uses approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

U.S. District Judge Samuel Wilson rejected Abbott's arguments in a March 10 memo recently posted online, and ordered the company to produce the e-mails.

Abbott previously said it would cost tens of thousands of dollars to recover the requested e-mails from backup tapes in company storage.

"If retrieving the e-mails the government requests is as difficult as Abbott conveys, then the fault lies not so much with an overly broad governmental request as it does with Abbott's policy or practice of retaining documents," wrote Wilson.

Abbott spokesman Scott Stoffel said the company continues to cooperate with investigators.

Depakote was one of Abbott's best-selling products before it lost patent protection in 2008. The drug, which is also approved for migraines and bipolar disorder, had sales $102 million for the last quarter of 2009.

In recent years federal prosecutors have brought multibillion dollar fines against several drugmakers, including Pfizer and Eli Lilly & Co., for marketing their drugs for unapproved uses. Attorneys general argue that so called off-label marketing encourages potentially unsafe prescribing and inflates federal spending on pharmaceuticals.

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