Even Big Pharma can be a small world.
Eli Lilly and AstraZeneca have a surprising connection that makes the drug industry look like a small world.
The government case against AstraZeneca about overzealous marketing of the antipsychotic Seroquel got started in 2004 with a whistleblower lawsuit filed under seal by a company drug rep named James Wetta.
Turns out the same guy previously worked as a salesman for Eli Lilly and blew the whistle on that company's marketing of the antipsychotic Zyprexa in a 2003 lawsuit.
On Tuesday, AstraZeneca denied the federal charges but agreed to settle them anyway by paying $520 million. Of that amount, more than $45 million will go to Wetta, who the settlement agreement says will share some of the money with another repeat whistleblower — psychiatrist Dr. Stefan Kruszewski.
Dow Jones pharma reporter Peter Loftus, who was the first person we saw to point out the link, couldn't reach Wetta for comment. Mark Lipowicz, one of his lawyers, told Loftus that Wetta didn't want to be interviewed. Wetta, the lawyer said, helped the government for years.
Wetta pops up in a settlement Lilly signed in early 2009 that led to a $438 million payment. His share of that pot wasn't disclosed in the settlement.
Over at the site Main Justice, another Wetta lawyer named Stephen Sheller, remembers the call he got from Wetta after he joined AstraZeneca. "Steve, I can't believe it. It's going on here, too," Sheller recalls him saying.
The lawyer was skeptical but Wella eventually convinced him. "It turned out he was right," Sheller said. For more on Sheller, who's been involved in whistleblower suits involving several drugmakers, check out this piece from member station WHYY on why people blow the whistle.