Procrit. It seemed to be a miraculous blood booster. This anti-anemia drug was one of the first biotech blockbusters and promised a golden age in medical care. Developed in the 1980s by the start-up Amgen and licensed to the pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson, the drug was sold by the two companies under the brand names Procrit, Epogen, and Aranesp. It soon generated billions in annual revenue—and still does.
Mark Duxbury, a gung ho salesman for J&J’s new biotech division, championed this new product and believed in the technology behind it. Always at the ready with a joke and a smile, his knowledge and passionate pitches set sales records and won company awards. His star rose. But in the early 1990s, he and his peers were told to steal business from J&J’s partner, Amgen. Then came the biased marketing studies, the off-invoice rebates, doctor payments, and off-label promotions. Duxbury tried to stop some of these ruthless practices, but was soon fired on trumped-up charges. Then he attempted to warn the public about the dangers in any way he could: by testifying in a secret arbitration, joining a class action effort, and filing a whistleblower suit. But he was thwarted at nearly every turn—until the surprising final act.
Dean McClellan was Duxbury’s sales colleague. He tried to beat his buddy’s record and wound up selling $170 million worth of the drug, becoming a company legend. When Duxbury got fired, McClellan tried to distance himself. But as news of Procrit’s deadly power started to surface, McClellan agreed to hand over thousands of damning documents and help his friend blow the whistle on J&J.
Enter Jan Schlichtmann, protagonist of the bestselling book and Oscar-nominated movie A Civil Action. When he learned of Duxbury’s mission, he felt the old fire rising in his belly and signed on. Now he’s gambling on yet another long shot, fighting on behalf of not just millions of cancer patients, but for every American who cares about their health.