Company Failed to Follow Good Manufacturing Practices in North Carolina Facility
Healthcare company Baxter Healthcare Corporation (Baxter) has agreed to pay $18.158 million to resolve its criminal and civil liability arising from Baxter’s failure to follow current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP) when manufacturing sterile drug products in North Carolina, the Department of Justice announced today. Today’s resolution includes a deferred prosecution agreement and penalties and forfeiture totaling $16 million and a civil settlement under the False Claims Act (FCA) with the federal government totaling approximately $2.158 million. Baxter is a Delaware corporation and subsidiary of Baxter International Inc., headquartered in Deerfield, Illinois, with many manufacturing facilities throughout the United States and the world, including one in Marion, North Carolina (North Cove).
In a criminal information filed today in the Western District of North Carolina, the government charged that, between July 2011 and November 2012, Baxter introduced into interstate commerce drugs that were adulterated under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) because Baxter did not follow cGMP when making those products. At North Cove, Baxter manufactured large-volume sterile intravenous (IV) solutions in a clean room that had high-efficiency particulate absorption (HEPA) filters installed in the ceiling. Air was pushed into the clean room through the HEPA filters. As alleged in the information, during the relevant time period, a Baxter employee reported the presence of mold on the HEPA filters to plant management. However, Baxter continued to manufacture IV solutions in that clean room for months while the filters the employee had identified as moldy remained in place. Subsequent testing of the filters following an unannounced U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspection revealed several mold species on the filters. There was no evidence of impact on the IV solutions from the mold found on the filters.
In a deferred prosecution agreement to resolve the charge, Baxter admitted that it distributed products in interstate commerce that were adulterated in violation of the FDCA. Under the terms of the deferred prosecution agreement, Baxter will pay a total of $16 million in monetary penalties and forfeiture and will implement enhanced compliance provisions, including periodic certifications to the government concerning its implementation of those provisions. The deferred prosecution agreement will not be final until accepted by the U.S. District Court.
“Following current Good Manufacturing Practices is essential to ensure the safety and efficacy of our drugs,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “Today’s settlement shows that the government will continue to hold companies accountable for failing to fulfill this critically important responsibility.”
“Despite notification by an employee of potential contamination concerns, Baxter was poorly focused on instituting sufficient safety standards for their products,” said U.S. Attorney Jill Westmoreland Rose for the Western District of North Carolina (WDNC). “Today’s resolution reflects WDNC’s commitment to hold accountable drug companies that violate manufacturing standards and wrongly profit from those violations.”
“FDA’s manufacturing standards are designed to ensure the quality, safety, and efficacy of drugs distributed to American consumers, and FDA expects pharmaceutical companies to correct deficiencies in an expedited manner,” said Special Agent in Charge Justin Green of FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations, Miami Field Office. “We will remain vigilant in our efforts to protect the U.S. public health from potentially dangerous products.”
In addition, Baxter will pay approximately $2.158 million to resolve allegations that the company violated the FCA by submitting false claims to the Department of Veterans Affairs based upon Baxter’s failure to follow cGMPs.
The civil settlement resolves a lawsuit filed by Christopher Wall, an employee of Baxter, under the whistleblower provision of the False Claims Act, which permits private parties to file suit on behalf of the United States for false claims and share in a portion of the government’s recovery. The civil lawsuit was filed in the Western District of North Carolina and is captioned United States ex rel. Christopher Wall v. Baxter International, Inc. et al., No. 13cv42 (W.D.N.C.). Mr. Wall will receive $431,535.99 from the proceeds of the civil settlement.
This settlement illustrates the government’s emphasis on combating health care fraud and marks another achievement for the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT) initiative, which was announced in May 2009 by the Attorney General and the Secretary of Health and Human Services. The partnership between the two departments has focused efforts to reduce and prevent Medicare and Medicaid financial fraud through enhanced cooperation. One of the most powerful tools in this effort is the False Claims Act. Since January 2009, the Justice Department has recovered a total of more than $31.4 billion through False Claims Act cases, with nearly $19.6 billion of that amount recovered in cases involving fraud against federal health care programs.
The settlement with Baxter was the result of a coordinated effort among the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of North Carolina and the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch and Commercial Litigation Branch, with assistance from the FDA’s Office of Chief Counsel. The criminal investigation was conducted by the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations.
Except as to conduct admitted in connection with the deferred prosecution agreement, the claims settled by the civil agreement are allegations only and there has been no determination of civil liability.
For more information about the Consumer Protection Branch and its enforcement efforts, visit its website at http://www.justice.gov/civil/consumer-protection-branch. For more information on the Commercial Litigation Branch’s Fraud Section, visit https://www.justice.gov/civil/fraud-section. For more information about the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of North Carolina, visit https://www.justice.gov/usao-wdnc.