Peter Rost: Hero or Whiner? You Decide

Former Pfizer executive Peter Rost has taken the moral high ground in the past, and brought welcome objectivity to the debate over drug importation. The talented executive could easily find a post in a public policy arena, so why is he suing his former employer — one he has criticized for years — for wrongful termination?

Earlier this month, Pfizer dismissed whistleblower Peter Rost, who had openly criticized the company's policies and the U.S. industry's position on drug importation. His termination occurred while he was vacationing, and he has responded by suing the company for wrongful termination.

According to New York Times reporter Alex Berenson, who covered the situation in a December 2nd article in that newspaper, the dismissal came after a federal judge in Boston unsealed a lawsuit against Pfizer that Rost had filed in June 2003. The suit asserted that Pharmacia, a drug maker Pfizer bought in April 2003, illegally promoted the sale of human growth hormone for unauthorized uses.

According to Berenson, Rost contends that Pharmacia offered doctors illegal inducements to use genotropin, its growth hormone, as an anti-aging drug for adults. The Food and Drug Administration has not approved human growth hormone for that purpose, and drug makers are not supposed to promote their products for purposes that have not received approval.

The fact that the suit was unsealed is actually a positive development for Pfizer, Berenson wrote, because it indicates that the government has chosen not to participate in the suit alongside Rost. Whistleblower lawsuits typically remain secret when the government participates.

According to Berenson in the New York Times, a spokesman for Pfizer, Paul Fitzhenry, said, "The government's action today indicates that after two and a half years of careful evaluation, the government sees no merit in intervening in Peter Rost's action."

The article quotes Fitzhenry as saying that a separate federal investigation into the way Pharmacia marketed genotropin is continuing. Fitzhenry asserted Rost's lawsuit was without merit, Berenson reported, because Pfizer had told the F.D.A. about irregularities in the way Pharmacia promoted genotropin several weeks before Rost separately informed officials.

The following is a direct excerpt from the New York Times article:

"Peter Rost filed his whistle-blower lawsuit after Pfizer brought the matter to the government," Mr. Fitzhenry said. "His actions in this regard were clearly opportunistic."

Under the law, whistle-blowers can receive part of the money the government recovers in a lawsuit that is begun as a result of information they have provided. In some cases, whistle-blowers have been awarded tens of millions of dollars.

Mr. Fitzhenry also remarked that Mr. Rost had been the vice president in charge of marketing genotropin at Pfizer, so that he was essentially blowing the whistle on his own conduct.

Mr. Rost said yesterday that he believed he had filed his suit before Pfizer disclosed any information to the government. He brought the suit, he said, because Pfizer and Pharmacia repeatedly rejected his efforts to tell the F.D.A. about the way genotropin was marketed.

"I had spent from October 2002 trying to get Pfizer and Pharmacia to take action," he added, "and finally took my own action."
Read the coverage by the Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger and Reuters News Service and see what you think. Then give us your feedback via the poll below.

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