Behind Two Big Drug Company Settlements: Professional Whistleblowers

Two men involved in AstraZeneca (AZN)'s $520 million settlement with the Department of Justice over its alleged mismarketing of the antipsychotic Seroquel appear to be professional whistleblowers: This is the third settlement in which Dr. Stefan Kruszewski has collected a jackpot payout from a drug or healthcare company since April 2009. It's the second for pharmaceutical sales rep James Wetta. Together, the pair have wrested $4.2 billion in settlements from AZ, Pfizer (PFE) and Eli Lilly (LLY).

The cases are a warning to management and human resources chiefs on how not to handle disgruntled employees: Kruszewski, who was fired by the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare after he alerted his bosses to questionable prescribing practices in the state, regards his whistleblowing as a crusade. He wrote in PLoS Medicine:

For me, whistleblowing is not a theoretical exercise. It has a human face and tangible features. It is the face of children and adults who have been injured or killed by misrepresented pharmaceuticals; clinical research trial results that have been sequestered from the scientific community and whose incomplete findings cause injury; and pharmaceuticals that are detailed to physicians, not to save lives or necessarily improve the health or welfare of the recipients, but to make money.
In the Seroquel case, Kruszewski will share $45 million with former AZ sales rep Wetta. Wetta previously got a piece of a $100 million settlement from a former employer, Eli Lilly (LLY), which paid $1.4 billion to settle allegations regarding its marketing of another antipsychotic, Zyprexa.

The AZ case comes just months after Kruszewski netted $29 million for his role in Pfizer's $2.3 billion settlement over mismarketing allegations involving its painkiller Bextra and the antipsychotic Geodon. In addition, Kruszewski received $22,500 in a whistleblowing settlement with Southwood Psychiatric Hospital in April 2009, over allegations of prescribing abuse there.

One wonders whether Kruszewski would have become so persistent a litigant if his firing had been handled better -- or had it not happened at all. In 2005, he told a conference for whistleblowers:

"I was fired in a demeaning manner," said Kruszewski, who has sued DPW over his firing. "My two offices were emptied and the contents of these offices were put in the gutter."