Astrazeneca’s Seroquel sparks more than 20,000 lawsuits

    So far none of the lawsuits have made it to trial, but several are scheduled for hearings later this month in a New Jersey court.

    More than 20,000 lawsuits have been filed against Delaware-based AstraZeneca, which makes the drug Seroquel. So far none of the lawsuits have made it to trial, but several are scheduled for hearings later this month in a New Jersey court. [audio:100205kgdrug.mp3]

    Seroquel is an anti-psychotic medication used to treat bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Temple Medical School professor David Baron says — with the drug’s benefits may come side effects.

    Baron: One of the things that has created a lot of concern is the weight gain issue. That many of the patients who go on it will put on weight.

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    And after putting on weight, could develop risks for heart disease or diabetes.

    Seroquel was approved in the 1990s, but in 2005 the FDA required AstraZeneca to publish additional side effect warnings about those risks. The lawsuits complain that AstraZeneca knew about the side effects long before. Even if the plaintiffs can prove that the company knew about the side effects, they will also have to prove that the drug caused them.

    Baron: Oftentimes it’s very difficult to determine whether a particular side effect was a result of the side effect or the illness.

    Baron says people with schizophrenia are already at higher risk for diabetes, independent of their medication.

    AstraZeneca spokesman Tony Jewell says there’s no evidence to support the allegations.

    Jewell: The heart of these cases are unproven claims that Seroquel causes diabetes in individual patients. In the cases prepared for trial to date plaintiffs have been repeatedly unable to prove their claims in court.

    Jewell’s referring to eight cases in Delaware and Florida where judges dismissed the lawsuits.

    More than 20,000 still await trial. Already, the legal defense costs have exceeded $650 million dollars. But the impact of losing some cases, could be more than financial. George Sillup is a marketing professor at Saint Joseph’s University.

    How they fare in this could somewhat tarnish their reputation and that influences the stockholders and perhaps in the mind of the prescribers.

    A judge in Florida has ordered the company to discuss a potential settlement with plaintiffs’ attorneys. Meanwhile, three cases in New Jersey that had been scheduled for trial have motion hearings later this month. Hundreds of patients in New Jersey have filed lawsuits against Astrazeneca.

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