AT A GLANCE: AstraZeneca opposes landmark US court verdict

What is this about? A court in Alabama has told AstraZeneca (AZ) that it must pay damages in a dispute over the supply of drugs to Medicaid, the US health programme for people with low incomes.

AZ's case is the first of many to come to court and the company is appealing against the judgment.

WHY IS A US COURT JUDGMENT OF UK INTEREST?
Firstly, the company's size and origin: AstraZeneca is, along with GlaxoSmithKline, one of only two global UK pharma companies. Secondly, the size of the putative fine: the Alabama court has said that AZ must pay a whopping $215m (£108m).

PHEW! NOT EXACTLY SMALL CHANGE THEN?
No, the figure is made up of $40m (£20m) in 'compensatory' damages and $175m (£88m) in 'punitive' damages. In essence, the case against AZ - and 72 other pharma companies in similar suits - is that misleading and false reported prices caused the Alabama State Medicaid Agency to reimburse pharmacists too much money on prescriptions filed for Medicaid patients.

HOW IS THE AZ COMMS TEAM COUNTERING THE CHARGES?
In a robust fashion, as you would expect. In a statement the company says the lawsuit 'is legally and factually unfounded'. AZ argues that the case at the Montgomery County Circuit Court was based on the 'misleading premise that the Alabama State Medicaid Agency did not understand how drug prices are established and reported'. 'Serious errors occurred during the proceedings,' it adds.

ANY OTHER LINES OF ATTACK?
The company reiterates that it fully complied with the law, government guidelines and contracts that govern Medicaid pricing, by providing medicines at the lowest price offered to its best business clients. To illustrate this, AZ also says that Alabama patients have received more than $25.5m (£12.8m) in savings through the company's prescription savings programmes over the past two years.

HASN'T AZ SEEN SOME RECENT COMMS TEAM CHANGES?
Yes, media relations manager Edel McCaffrey is joining gas firm BG Group next month, while AZ's head of UK comms Sally Sykes left last month to join Johnson & Johnson offshoot DePuy Orthopaedics (PRWeek, 8 February). Sykes was succeeded by AZ head of comms Amie Malkin.

Further information www.astrazeneca.com

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