Pfizer has become the first pharmaceutical firm to be penalised by the US Department of Justice under new legislation that will hit hard any companies which violate the Clean Air Act.

The New York-based giant has agreed to pay a $975,000 civil penalty to resolve alleged violations of the aforementioned act at its manufacturing plant in Groton, Connecticut, which closed in January 2008. The deal was disclosed by the Justice Department and Environmental Protection Agency which noted that the settlement is the first of its type in federal court under regulations that are designed to control the emissions of hazardous air pollutants from pharmaceutical manufacturing operations.

Specifically, Pfizer was accused of violating PharmaMACT (‘maximum achievable control technology’) regulations, which are industry-specific measures that must be implemented to prevent harm to human health or the environment. The alleged violations, which occurred between October 2002 and December 2005, resulted from a failure of Pfizer’s “leak detection and repair programme” at the Groton facility, the DoJ said.

Ronald Tenpas of the department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, said that “this significant penalty, the first in federal court under the PharmaMACT regulations, should send a strong message to the pharmaceutical industry that they must be diligent in detecting and repairing leaks of hazardous substances”. He added that “we will not wait to enforce the law until after a catastrophe occurs. Penalties such as this one compel the industry’s close attention and rigorous implementation of the leak detection requirements”.

…provides funding for EyeCyte
In other Pfizer news, the firm announced that it will provide $3 million in Series A funding to EyeCyte, an early-stage stem-cell R&D company specialising in ophthalmic diseases.

Pfizer noted that the cash will fund EyeCyte into 2010 and it will initially go towards research into diabetic retinopathy. The companies believe that the stem cell approach could also led to treatments for other eye diseases including age-related macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa.