Wednesday, February 14, 2007

AstraZeneca: Sued Over Seroquel

Over 10,000 US patients have filed lawsuits against AstraZeneca, alleging that AZ hid dangers of its bestselling atypical antipsychotic quetiapine (Seroquel). The lawsuits allege that AZ was not forthcoming about side effects such as significant weight gain and diabetes. In addition, the lawsuits focus on Seroquel allegedly being promoted for unapproved uses, a point I have suspected (here and here) for a while on this site.

Here's some snippets from the latest story from Bloomberg:

AstraZeneca said in a preliminary annual report filed Feb. 1 that it knew of about 1,200 lawsuits containing the claims of about 8,000 plaintiffs. The company ``has not determined how many additional cases, if any, may have been filed,'' AstraZeneca said in the filing. The company said in May it faced 232 Seroquel suits, including those with multiple claims.


Seroquel, approved for use for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, is part of a class of newer antipsychotic drugs including Zyprexa and Johnson & Johnson's Risperdal. Seroquel passed Zyprexa last year as the top-selling atypical antipsychotic, [AZ spokesperson] Minnick said.

AstraZeneca has been sued by 9,956 individuals in U.S. courts over Seroquel, according to a Feb. 5 filing in federal court Orlando, Florida, where the lawsuits have been consolidated in a multidistrict litigation for evidence-gathering and pre- trial hearings.

This includes claims by 7,171 plaintiffs in federal courts, primarily. The claims are made in about 1,500 lawsuits, many of which have multiple plaintiffs.

The suits claim that AstraZeneca knew the risks of Seroquel and didn't warn patients in the U.S. ``until they were finally forced to do so by the FDA,'' according to a complaint filed in federal court in Massachusetts, on behalf of 997 plaintiffs.


The growth in sales of the drug, from $66 million in 1998 to $2.75 billion in 2005, was spurred by ``AstraZeneca's aggressive marketing of Seroquel,'' according to these patients, whose cases have been transferred to federal court in Orlando.

The marketing ``consisted chiefly of overstating the drug's uses and benefits (including massive off-label promotion), while understating and consciously concealing its life-threatening side effects,'' their complaint said.

Lawyers representing Seroquel users have agreed to limit the claims filed to people who said they developed serious health problems after taking the drug, said attorney Paul Pennock, lead plaintiffs' counsel in the multi-district litigation.

``Everybody involved took a blood oath that we were only going to pursue cases where there was a real injury, like pancreatitis, diabetes or severe exacerbation of existing diabetes,'' said Pennock of Weitz & Luxenberg in New York. ``This was as opposed to the Zyprexa litigation where a lot of people took on all comers,'' he said.

Pennock represents more than 1,700 plaintiffs, about 67 percent of whom were prescribed the medication for off-label uses, including insomnia, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and Alzheimer's, he said.

I'll be keeping my eye on this one. Given that AZ has been studying Seroquel as a treatment for virtutally everything, I strongly expect they "educated" physicians about the results from these studies on conditions other than bipolar and schizophrenia (which have yielded, from what I've seen, not overly impressive results) via doctor dinners, journal article dissemination, continuing medical misinformation, er, education, and the like.

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