The Amgen Sales Rep, The Doctor and The Dog

by Ed Silverman | Pharmalot
December 1, 2010

More than a decade ago, Elena Ferrante worked as an oncology sales rep for Immunex and would leave her Yorkshire Terrier puppy in her car when visiting docs. One day, though, a nurse suggested Ferrante bring the dog inside in hopes of giving chemo patients a psychological lift. The gambit worked and soon Ferrante was bringing Justine with her into various offices, but only if given permission.

“I brought pictures of my dog like some people bring pictures of their children with them,” she says. “My dogs are my children. And most people are interested in dogs. But it was always in a carrier. And I never brought her in if she wasn’t wanted. She would brighten the day for chemo patients. She would sit in their lap. You know, these are people who are going through chemo, which is very tough.”

 

Her oncology manager, she says, was not thrilled, but in late 2001, after she switched to dermatology, her new manager made it clear that she should no longer bring the dog into offices. So she stopped. But in 2005, three years after Amgen bought Immunex, she was fired, although not given a reason. Ferrante, however, believes she was canned because she refused to engage in alleged off-label marketing of the Enbrel rheumatoid arthritis med. As previously noted on this site, Amgen faces several probes from various authories looking into HIPAA violations, as well as consumer fraud laws and state false claims acts concerning the drug.

In fact, Ferrante has been locked in a long-running arbitration dispute with the biotech and has also filed a $10 million lawsuit claiming wrongful termination. Along the way, she says Amgen suddenly claimed she was fired because she wrongfully brought her dog on sales calls, despite having been warned not to do so. And the biotech singled out visits to Babar Rao, a dermatologist, who she says may have seen the dog two or three times, but never complained to her or anyone else about the little Yorkie. “I never got any indication from Dr. Rao that there was an issue,” she tells us.

And so, Ferrante’s attorney decided to depose Rao and learned that, in fact, he never had complained about the dog. As far as Ferrante and her attorney, Lydia Cotz, are concerned, the dog was a pretext. “He testified under oath that he never complained to anyone at Amgen about my client ever bringing in a dog nor did anyone from Amgen contact him to discuss whether or not my client brought a dog into this office,” says Cotz. “Yet, that was the crux of the reason Amgen wrongfully terminated my client?

“The dog became the sole focus of their defense. But the entire reasoning had been fabricated. They used a fabricated reason to fire my client because she complained about the illegal off-label marketing of Enbrel and resisted their directives to sell Enbrel off label,” she continues. “Her managers submitted two certifications – not one of them mentioned the dog as the reason for being terminated. She should have never been fired. And now, their defense has become defenseless.”

Her argument has a bite to it, so we wrote Amgen for a reply, but have not heard back. As for Rao, he did not respond to a message left with his office.