Novartis sues Internet pharmacies for prescription drug violations

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Novartis Animal Health U.S. is suing three Internet retailers of pet care products for trademark infringement, false advertising, and other violations surrounding the company's Sentinel and Interceptor flavor tablets brands of prescription drugs.

Filed March 19 with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, the suit identifies PetMed Express, Drs. Foster & Smith, and Savemax as illegally selling in the United States foreign versions of the popular parasite medications for dogs and cats.

The Greensboro, N.C.-based Novartis subsidiary is accusing the three retailers of having engaged in trademark infringement, false and misleading advertising, deceptive and unfair trade practices, unfair competition, and injuring the company's reputation.

Because the drugs are made for distribution in Europe and Australia, the formulations and labeling differ from those approved by the Food and Drug Administration for sale in the United States. Novartis, which distributes its products only where there is a veterinarian-client-patient relationship, says the different dosage amounts—kilograms rather than pounds—confuse customers and can lead to incorrect dosages.

"We believe that this lawsuit against PetMed Express is in the best interest of both veterinarians and pet owners across America, as well as the companion animals we strive to protect," said Jim Guidone, CEO of Novartis Animal Health U.S., in a statement.

The company has asked the court for financial compensation and to order PetMed Express, Drs. Foster & Smith, and Savemax to stop selling foreign versions of the prescription drugs Sentinel and Interceptor in America.

The litigation is the most recent legal trouble for PetMed Express and Savemax. The Florida Agency for Healthcare Administration is bringing a case against the Florida-based retailers for illegal distribution of drugs.

Neither PetMed Express nor Savemax could be reached for comment.

Dr. Race Foster was surprised that Drs. Foster & Smith was named as a defendant in the suit. The company co-owner acknowledged that distributors for Drs. Foster & Smith did, for a brief period, ship some products listing doses in kilograms rather than pounds. Dr. Foster doesn't know how the distributors came by those versions, and he maintains Drs. Foster & Smith itself has not imported any foreign products to sell in U.S. markets.