AstraZeneca has reacted swiftly to a state-court jury’s decision to force the firm to pay $215 million to the state of Alabama as part of a Medicaid drug pricing fraud case.

It had been claimed that AstraZeneca’s US subsidiary misled the Alabama State Medical Agency and inflated prices for drugs prescribed to its patients under the scheme. The jury has agreed and the unit has been told it must pay $40 million in compensatory damages and $175 million in punitive damages.

AstraZeneca is one of 73 pharmaceutical firms that Alabama’s Attorney General filed suit against in 2005 over drug pricing for Medicaid recipients and this is the first case to go to trial. The state has settled cases already, with Takeda Pharmaceuticals North America and Day.

The drugmaker is not taking the decision lying down, however, and said that “this lawsuit is legally and factually unfounded and we intend to appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court, if the trial court does not reject the jury's verdict”. It added that the case was based on the “misleading premise that the Alabama State Medicaid Agency did not understand the basics on how drug prices are established and reported”.

AstraZeneca went on to claim that “numerous errors occurred during the proceedings”. For example, the court ruled that important information on the workings of the Alabama pharmacy system be withheld throughout the trial and also “permitted evidence of earlier, unrelated settlements and proceedings in clear violation of the rules of evidence”. These “and other reversible errors were compounded by negative public comments by the trial lawyers and state leaders prior to the jury selection process”, the firm added.

The company said it has “fully complied with the law, government guidelines and contracts that govern Medicaid pricing. We currently provide medicines to Medicaid programmes at the lowest price that we offer to our best business clients, as federal law requires”. It concluded by noting that to help people who have difficulty paying for drugs, “we offer patient assistance programs side by side with our medicines”. In the last two years alone, AstraZeneca said it had helped more than 28,800 Alabama patients receive more than $25.5 million in savings through its prescription savings programmes.