Valeant hires attorney, crisis management firm as U.S. scrutiny mounts

Sun Dec 13, 2015 1:30pm EST
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By Sarah N. Lynch and David Ingram

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. pharmaceuticals firm Valeant, under mounting pressure from Congress and prosecutors over its drug pricing, has hired an attorney in Washington, DC and crisis public relations experts with political connections, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The move, confirmed by sources and through documents viewed by Reuters, signals a shift for Valeant Pharmaceuticals, which does not maintain a large presence on Capitol Hill.

In recent months the company has attracted scrutiny over steep price hikes on some of its drugs, potentially anti-competitive behavior in its contact lens business and close ties to a specialty pharmacy with aggressive billing practices.

Valeant shares have lost nearly 75 percent of their value following the disclosures. Billionaire Bill Ackman, one of Valeant’s largest shareholders, has said the company made a "meaningful mistake" of underinvesting in public relations as it dealt with questions about its business practices.

Valeant recently retained attorney Robert Kelner, a partner at the law firm Covington & Burling, to help respond to congressional inquiries, including an investigation led by an oversight committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, according to a November 20 letter seen by Reuters that was sent to Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings of Maryland. Covington’s attorney roster includes former Attorney General Eric Holder, and it has represented major drugmakers such as Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer.

Valeant has separately tapped Vianovo, a boutique crisis public affairs firm run by former political campaign and government aides that specializes in "high-stakes brand, policy and crisis issues" and counts Wal-Mart and IBM among its clientele, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Vianovo has also lobbied on behalf of companies including Apache Corp, as well as health care networks such as Adventist Healthcare, according to government records.

Valeant’s lobbying efforts are far more modest than that of industry peers, and the company has spent less than $250,000 for the first half of 2015, according to reports filed by its lobbyists.   Continued...

The headquarters of Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc., seen in Laval, Quebec November 9 2015.   REUTERS/Christinne Muschi