Before the conversation could get underway, Peter Rost plants a stake in the ground. "I'm not a crazy man," says Rost. "I just wanted to do my job well enough to one day run my own drug company."
Rost, author of The Whistleblower: Confessions from a Healthcare Hitman, was on his way up the corporate ladder. He began his career in medical advertising, eventually switching to an industry post at Wyeth, as managing director of the Nordic region, and then at Pharmacia, as vice president of endocrine marketing.
But along the way, Rost developed an itch that he couldn't help but scratch. Reluctantly—if you ask him—Rost filed not one but two qui tam suits: The first accused Wyeth of a global scheme to evade taxes. The second went after Pfizer, which acquired Pharmacia, for marketing its human growth therapy, Genotropin (somatropin), off-label.Many find it easy to dismiss Rost and his allegations—including a federal judge in Massachusetts, who ruled in favor of Pfizer in August. But just as many are intrigued. Rost makes his opinions difficult to ignore. He's been outspoken on television and on his blog, http://peterrost.blogspot.com/, and in his recent book, The Whistleblower: Confessions from a Healthcare Hitman. Supporters—and for entertainment, even some detractors—are eating up his depictions of the the world's largest pharmaceutical company, corporate espionage, and of the consequences that befall whistleblowers—among other things, Rost is out of a job.
What did you learn from blowing the whistle on Pfizer?
Not to blow the whistle. Seriously. You should avoid it at any price because it simply isn't worth it—you really lose everything. Obviously, nobody's going to agree that they broke a law, so you have to expect that you'll spend at least the next five to 10 years in court. Unless you're independently wealthy, there is really no upside for you to blow the whistle.
It's exactly like the mob. I hate saying it, but when you're talking to the mob, you end up with a bullet in your head. When you're talking about the drug industry, you end up never working again. People don't want to interview you if you have ever been in the press with anything like this, even if it is just trying to do the right thing.
The reality is that justice delayed is justice denied. The system is completely broke and I would strongly advise against anyone trying to blow the whistle. There's just no point.
Didn't you already know that, having filed suit against Wyeth for tax evasion?
Based on my prior experience, the last thing I ever wanted to do was get myself into this kind of situation. If you've been in this situation once, you will run from it again, which I tried to do.
I wasn't like, 'Hey, let's make some money and file a complaint.' It was very much the opposite. I gave Pfizer every opportunity for a year and a half to do something about [correcting the illegal marketing practices surrounding Genotropin].
But I don't regret having filed [a qui tam suit against Pfizer]. There was this law that made the distribution of drugs for off-label purposes a felony, with a penalty of up to 10 years in jail. As the VP in charge, I was screwed. I had to do something.
You've very publicly taken on Pfizer. How has that affected the way you've been portrayed in the media?
Pfizer used about 20 lawyers and PR people to prepare for my termination. Then they terminated me when I was out of the country and couldn't respond very well to the press. Pfizer also said a number of things to the press that were completely untrue, and they did it in a very sophisticated manner.