NEWARK, FEB. 19 -- A federal grand jury last night indicted a New Jersey physician for fraudulently testing at least 18 experimental drugs for nine pharmaceutical manufacturers.

The indictment said that between 1977 and 1985, the companies paid Dr. Robert A. Fogari, 46, about $1.85 million for data that he had routinely fabricated and falsified on a large scale.

U.S. Attorney Samuel A. Alito Jr. said the indictment alleges that Fogari "negated the very purpose of the studies, in that he failed to document whether {the} drugs benefited patients and whether ... they caused ... ill effects."

One of the firms, Ciba-Geigy, triggered an investigation by reporting testing irregularities to the FDA.

The indictment said Fogari consistently failed to perform required detailed clinical examinations, entered invented results on reporting forms, forged the signatures of other physicians on reports he fabricated, didn't tell the companies of adverse reactions in study patients, and backdated records to conceal the death of a study patient.

One elderly woman died while she was taking an experimental painkiller administered by Fogari, said Paul Conroy, regional inspector general for the U.S. Health and Human Services Department. Fogari allegedly failed to report the death to the drug's manufacturer. Another of the firms, Pfizer, relied on Fogari's data in advertisements for Feldene after the FDA approved it.

Like all of the 18 medicines, Feldene is in a class called the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, which are frequently prescribed for treatment of the symptoms of arthritis.

The other drug companies are Beecham Laboratories, Berlex Laboratories, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Sharp & Dohme, Syntex Laboratories, Upjohn and Warner-Lambert.

Fogari is charged with 20 counts of conspiracy, making false statements to the FDA, and obstructing justice by attempting to block the grand jury probe.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul A. Weissman said that, if convicted, Fogari could be imprisoned for up to five years on each count and fined up to $1.88 million -- $30,000 more than he was paid.