Pfizer to receive $296K in fraud case restitution

Pfizer Inc. stands to receive more than $300,000 from a former member of its speakers' bureau who perpetrated one of the biggest medical-research frauds in history.

Dr. Scott S. Reuben, accused last year of fabricating at least 21 medical studies, was charged in a federal court in Boston this week with health care fraud. Reuben had faced up to 10 years in prison, but a proposed plea agreement released Friday shows that a much-reduced sentence is being suggested in return for nearly $500,000 in restitution to drug companies and other penalties.

Reuben, from Longmeadow, Mass., agreed to plead guilty to one charge of falsifying medical research studies, according to court documents. The plea agreement has yet to be accepted by the federal court.

According to the one charge filed, Reuben, formerly chief of acute pain at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Mass., took nearly $75,000 from Pfizer to research the effectiveness of pain medication Celebrex for a 2005 study in which no patients were actually enrolled. Prosecutors allege that Reuben made up data, which he subsequently published in the medical journal Anesthesia & Analgesia.

The data supported the conclusion that Celebrex was effective in helping post-operative patients who had received a particular type of knee surgery, on the anterior cruciate ligament. Anesthesia & Analgesia later had to retract 10 papers authored by Reuben, and medical experts at the time said at least 21 journal articles by the anesthesiologist appeared to have been fabricated.

The agreement calls for Reuben to pay restitution of $296,557 to Pfizer and $16,000 to Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, two companies that merged last fall. Merck & Co. would receive $49,375 from the agreement, according to documents.

In addition to his fabricated Celebrex studies, Reuben had pretended to do research that backed the effectiveness of other pain drugs, including Pfizer's Bextra and Merck's Vioxx, according to prosecutors. Bextra and Vioxx later were pulled from the market because studies showed they increased the risk of death from heart attacks and strokes.

In addition, Reuben published data showing that Pfizer's antidepressant Effexor had exhibited painkilling properties.

Reuben's studies had been considered pioneering at the time they were published. His data had supported the use of two of Pfizer's major products - Celebrex and Lyrica - in combination to treat certain types of post-operative pain.

Reuben "was a regular on the medical lecturing circuit," according to court documents, and "had become a well known figure in the anesthesia and pain management medical communities."

Pfizer said previously that it had supported five of Reuben's research initiatives. Pfizer, which declined at the time to reveal how much it paid Reuben over the years to be part of its speakers' bureau, said the company played no part in the fraud.

Asked for a comment Friday, Pfizer was not able to provide a timely response.

Last March, Reuben was dismissed from his position at Baystate Medical Center after an audit revealed he had been dreaming up data for as many as 13 years. Reuben at the time was said to be cooperating with an investigation into his research history, though he exhibited limited recollection when it came to which of his studies had been fabricated, according to Dr. Steven L. Shafer, editor-in-chief of Anesthesia & Analgesia.

The case is being prosecuted after investigations by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Office of the Inspector General and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

l.howard@theday.com

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