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The most successful False Claims Act whistleblower in history–and the scourge of the pharmaceutical industry–has struck again. We last wrote about the tiny Key West, Fla., whistleblower Ven-A-Care in December ( here and here), when the onetime in-home IV company helped the federal government recover more than $700 million in settlements with four drug makers accused of pricing fraud. Later in December, in yet another false claims case initiated by Ven-A-Care, Mylan agreed to a $65 million settlement with the Texas attorney general. The streak continued Tuesday, when a Travis County, Tx., jury awarded the state $170 million in a Ven-A-Care-initiated false claims case against the generic pharmaceutical company Actavis. (Here’s the verdict sheet, and here’s the announcement from the Texas AG’s office.) Not only was the Actavis case the first trial of a Texas false claims suit in which the state intervened, it was also the first time a Ven-A-Care defendant anywhere has opted to put its fate in the hands of a jury. (Apparently not such a great idea.) Actavis was represented in the Travis County trial by Keith Harrison of Crowell & Moring and Shannon Ratliff of the Ratliff Law Firm in Austin. Harrison didn’t return our call, and Ratliff declined to comment. The verdict includes $60 million in penalties and about $35 million in damages against two units of Actavis, which was formerly known as Alpharma. Like the federal False Claims Act, the Texas statute provides for treble damages; the jury also awarded close to $4.5 million in attorneys fees to the plaintiffs team, which included state prosecutors Raymond Winter and Margaret Moore for Texas, and James Breen of The Breen Law Firm and Austin solo Charles Jarrett Anderson for Ven-A-Care. Like previous defendants in Ven-A-Care cases, Actavis was accused of inflating the average wholesale price of its drugs to government health insurers (in this case, Texas Medicaid). The drug maker allegedly used the inflated prices to market its products to pharmacies, which paid a lower price and then pocketed the difference from Medicaid reimbursements. The Travis County jury found that Actavis violated the Texas Medicaid Fraud Prevention Act from 1995 to 2005 in its price reporting. A state judge must still enter judgment against Actavis. The share of the $170 million award that will go to Ven-A-Care and its lawyers has yet to be determined. But for Ven-A-Care, any take from the Actavis case is icing on the cake. Ven-A-Care filed its first FCA case in 1994—-three years after its four partners (a former marina operator, a pharmacist, a doctor, and a nurse) became disgusted when they received a Medicare reimbursement check for hundreds of dollars for drugs that cost them $50. It has since become the most successful whistleblower in FCA history, earning more than $340 million in bounty since the first settlement of a Ven-A-Care case in 2000. State and federal governments, meanwhile, have so far recovered more than $2 billion in cases initiated by Ven-A-Care. And the Ven-A-Care litigation is far from finished: Several more cases brought by the relentless whistleblower are pending in the average wholesale price federal multidistrict litigation in Boston, and another Texas state court trial–against Par Pharmaceuticals–is scheduled for May. Ven-A-Care counsel Breen told us Wednesday that he was thrilled with the verdict. He said Ven-A-Care’s relator share awards in prior Texas settlements have averaged about 21 percent, which could mean a cut of $35 million or more for his client. To put that number in perspective, Breen said Ven-A-Care’s expert costs alone were more than $1 million in the Actavis case. Overall, he said, Ven-A-Care has risked the equivalent of “well north of $60 million” in lawyer hours in its drug pricing litigation since 1994. For years, Breen said, the payoff was uncertain. Not so much anymore.

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