Pfizer: Record fines for a repeat offender
Federal prosecutors have hit Pfizer with a record $2.3 billion in fines, “putting drugmakers on notice that they will be forced to atone for improper marketing practices,” said Carrie Johnson in The Washington Post. Pfizer will pay $1.3 billion to settle a single criminal charge of urging doctors to prescribe the anti-inflammatory Bextra for broader uses and at higher doses than those approved by federal regulators. The remaining $1 billion settles state and federal civil allegations of improperly marketing Bextra and three other drugs: Geodon, an anti-psychotic treatment; Lyrica, an epilepsy drug; and Zyvox, an antibiotic.
Pfizer’s fines are not likely to stop drugmakers from promoting drugs for unauthorized uses, said Tom Murphy in the Associated Press. A single blockbuster drug can generate profits that dwarf even “eye-popping” penalties such as Pfizer’s. The best evidence that the fines are no deterrent is Pfizer itself. The company is, in the words of one prosecutor, a “recidivist” that has settled four improper-marketing claims with the Justice Department in the past decade.
Computing: Oracle and Sun hit a roadblock
European antitrust officials have put Oracle’s $7.4 billion acquisition of Sun Microsystems on hold, while they determine if the merger would give Oracle a stranglehold on the database-software business, said Nikki Tait in the Financial Times. As part of the merger, Oracle is buying MySQL, a Sun subsidiary that’s developing an open-source alternative to Oracle’s own proprietary database programs. European regulators worry that Oracle will kill off MySQL, depriving consumers of an alternative to Oracle’s high-priced software.
Takeovers: Kraft won’t take no for an answer
Kraft Foods said this week it would continue to pursue a takeover of Cadbury, despite Cadbury’s rejection of its $16.7 billion takeover bid, said Sarah Shannon and Andrew Cleary in Bloomberg.com. Analysts say the two companies are a “near-perfect geographical fit,” with each company having dominant operations in countries where the other company is weak. But Cadbury shares have soared above Kraft’s offering price, suggesting that Kraft will have to raise its bid—and perhaps fight rival bids from Nestlé and Hershey.
Electronics: Diebold dumps its voting machines
Diebold has exited the electronic voting machine business, selling its election systems unit to a small rival, said Veronica Dagher in The Wall Street Journal. Election Systems & Software paid $5 million for the unit, one-fifth of what Diebold paid in 2002. Diebold, a leading maker of ATMs, entered the business after the 2000 presidential election fiasco, when Congress mandated that states upgrade their voting technology. But Diebold quickly came under fire, with critics questioning the accuracy and security of its machines.
Publishing: Europeans assail Google’s book project
European publishers “spoke out sharply” this week against Google’s plan to become the world’s digital librarian and bookseller, said James Kanter in The New York Times. At a European Commission hearing, opponents denounced Google’s plan to profit from digitizing books that are out of print or have no clear copyright holder. European policymakers are also reluctant to give one company a monopoly in online book sales and digital access to published materials.