Thursday, July 07, 2005

He who casts.

June 8, 2005
At Pfizer, the Isolation Increases for a Whistle-Blower

By ALEX BERENSON

No man is an island. But Peter Rost is getting close.

Dr. Rost, a vice president for marketing at Pfizer with a history of
corporate whistle-blowing, has for the last year publicly criticized
the pharmaceutical industry over the price of drugs. Along the way,
Dr. Rost has become increasingly isolated at Pfizer, the world's
largest drug company.

First, his employees stopped reporting to him. Then his supervisors
stopped returning his calls and now he does not know whom to report
to. His secretary left, he said, and he was moved to an office near
Pfizer's security department at a company building in Peapack, N.J.
The latest blow came Monday, the morning after Dr. Rost, 46, appeared
on a segment of "60 Minutes" on CBS about drug prices - a follow-up
to his news conference on the subject last year with members of
Congress and to the opinion pieces he has written for The New York
Times and other newspapers. Ready, as always, to put in a full day at
the office, Dr. Rost turned on his computer Monday and tried for the
first time in almost two weeks to log into his Pfizer e-mail account.

Access denied.

Because his corporate cellphone also was suddenly not working, Dr.
Rost was reduced to using his Hotmail account to send e-mail messages
to reporters to report his electronic exile.

"This is like being in some kind of corporate twilight zone," Dr.
Rost said in an interview yesterday. "I guess everybody's waiting for
me to get fired."

Paul Fitzgerald, a spokesman for Pfizer, said that the company had
not deliberately disconnected Dr. Rost's e-mail and cellphone
service. "There have been cases, through a change of vendor, where
some employees have lost service for a period of time," Mr.
Fitzgerald said.

Beyond that, Mr. Fitzgerald said that he could not comment on Dr.
Rost's work at Pfizer.

But he said that Pfizer had not changed Dr. Rost's responsibilities
since April 2003, when Pfizer bought Pharmacia & Upjohn, where Dr.
Rost formerly worked. At the time of that acquisition, Dr. Rost
supervised Pharmacia's marketing of a growth hormone called genotropin.

Mr. Fitzgerald characterized Dr. Rost's new office as nice, a
description Dr. Rost did not dispute.

"He does still work at Pfizer," Mr. Fitzgerald said. "We continue to
employ him." By yesterday afternoon, after a reporter's inquiries
with the company, Dr. Rost reported that his e-mail account was
working again.

"Now I'm going to check if I can actually get in and get the name of
my supervisor," he wrote in an e-mail message. "That should be fun."

Dr. Rost first received public attention last August, after his
positive review of a book critical of the drug industry appeared on
Amazon.com. The next month, in his news conference, he called for
passage of legislation to allow imports of low-priced drugs from
other countries.

"Every day we delay, Americans die because they cannot afford life-
saving drugs," he said.

Pfizer responded at the time by saying that "Dr. Rost has no
qualifications to speak on importation."

Management specialists said that Pfizer and Dr. Rost had
irreconcilable differences and called for a speedy divorce.

"In defense of Pfizer, I don't think I would want him representing me
in the marketplace," said John Putzier, president of FirStep, a human
resources consulting firm based in Prospect, Pa.

Dr. Rost's comments are not in Pfizer's interests, Mr. Putzier said.
As a result, it may be legal for Pfizer to fire him. But a firing
might make Pfizer appear vindictive or give him more publicity, Mr.
Putzier said.

Dr. Rost may have additional protection against being fired. In its
most recent annual report, Pfizer disclosed that the Justice
Department had opened an investigation into its marketing of
genotropin, the growth hormone Dr. Rost was responsible for selling
at Pharmacia.

Dr. Rost said he could not confirm or deny whether he was involved in
that investigation. But if he is, he may be protected by federal laws
shielding whistle-blowers from retaliation.

Mr. Fitzgerald, the Pfizer spokesman, declined to comment on the
investigation. Pfizer is "really between a rock and a hard place,"
said Mr. Putzier, the consultant. "He's a loose cannon, but he's a
strategic loose cannon."

Pfizer became Dr. Rost's employer when it bought Pharmacia in 2002
for $63 billion. Dr. Rost had worked at Wyeth, another drug maker,
until 2001 - the year he sued Wyeth in New Jersey state court,
contending that the company had retaliated against him after he
uncovered its practice of underpaying taxes to foreign governments.
Dr. Rost and Wyeth settled the suit in December 2003; terms were not
disclosed.

Susan L. Annunzio, chief executive of the Hudson Highland Center for
High Performance, a management consulting firm in Chicago, said
Pfizer had evidently decided that firing Dr. Rost would cause more
problems than it would solve.

"Companies are in a dilemma," she said, "because they don't want bad
publicity, and they want to get the person to leave on his own."

Dr. Rost said that he did not enjoy being unable to work
productively, but that he could not quit without another job to
replace his current annual compensation of more than $600,000."I have
a family to support. There haven't been that many job offers coming
through lately."

"I'm about to reach my four-year anniversary," Dr. Rost said. "In
another year, I'll be fully vested in the pension plan."

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

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