Pfizer probes its own VP, who favors drug imports

Executive breaks ranks with view of industry

October 01, 2004|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON - Pfizer Inc., the world's largest drug company, is investigating the activities of Dr. Peter Rost, a company executive who supports the idea of importing cheaper prescription drugs from foreign countries.

Pfizer spokesman Jack Cox wouldn't discuss the nature of Rost's daylong interview Wednesday by a company-retained attorney, but said, "The meeting was professional and entirely consistent with Pfizer's policies regarding respect for employees."

Rost, a vice president of marketing at Pfizer, is the first drug-industry executive to dispute publicly the industry and federal government position that importing prescription drugs isn't safe.

Rost, noting his extensive experience in cross-border drug sales in Europe, says it is safe. He also has said in public appearances that he was speaking as a private citizen rather than a Pfizer employee.

His attorney, David Green of Morristown, N.J., said his client first was questioned Sept. 21 about his contacts with reporters by Robert S. Whitman, a lawyer with Orick, Herrington, & Sutcliffe in New York who works for Pfizer.

Later that week, Rost met in Washington with lawmakers who back a bill to legalize the U.S. sale and use of imported drugs from Canada and other countries where medications are 30 percent to 70 percent cheaper than in the United States.

Officials at Pfizer, which opposes foreign drug imports, subsequently wrote lawmakers, saying Rost knew little about importation or the dangers that foreign drugs may pose to Americans.

Whitman questioned Rost again Wednesday, Rost said, this time about his conversations with lawmakers in Washington.

"They were very specific about wanting to know everything I remembered from these conversations," Rost said in an interview yesterday. "They wanted to know who was there, who said what."

Rost said he complied with the questioning because his refusal could have been used as grounds for termination.

He said he felt Wednesday's questioning constituted a "political inquiry," which he found "especially disturbing" because Pfizer encourages its employees to be politically active on behalf of candidates and issues that the company supports.

Pfizer and its political action committees are by far the largest contributors among drug companies, contributing $1.15 million in the 2004 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington nonprofit that monitors political contributions. Two-thirds of the money went to Republicans.

"When you do that as an employer, you also have to accept it if people are politically active about issues that you may not agree on. You can't say it's OK to just support certain things and not others," Rost said.

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