Belviq Cancer Lawsuits To Proceed Without Centralized Management, After MDL Panel Rejects Motion to Consolidate

Although common questions of fact and law have been raised in a growing number of Belviq cancer lawsuits being filed by former users of the recalled weight loss drug, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) has determined that the parties can effectively coordinate the cases without formally centralizing the litigation before one judge for pretrial proceedings.

Belviq (lorcaserin) is a prescription weight loss drug that was removed from the market last year, after post marketing data found a large number of reports involving users diagnosed with cancer. However, before the FDA recalled Belviq it was on the market for nearly 8 years, and hundreds of users may have developed cancer.

There are currently only about 20 lawsuits pending throughout the federal court system over the Belviq cancer risk, each raising similar allegations that the drug makers failed to adequately research the medication before it was introduced in 2012. However, with lawyers continuing to investigate and file cases, and additional users likely to be diagnosed with cancer in the coming months and years, it is widely expected that the litigation may eventually include hundreds, if not thousands of lawsuits.

To help coordinate and manage the growing litigation, a group of plaintiffs joined together to file a motion to transfer with the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) in April, asking that cases filed in U.S. District Courts nationwide be transferred to one judge in the Eastern District of Louisiana for coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings.

The request is common in complex pharmaceutical litigation, where large numbers of lawsuits are filed by individuals who suffered the same or similar injury after taking a prescription medication. Known as an MDL, or multidistrict litigation, centralizing the cases is intended to reduce duplicative discovery into common issues in the cases, avoid contradictory rulings from different courts and serve the convenience of common parties and witnesses.

Eisai Inc. and Arena Pharmaceuticals, who are named as defendants in the litigation, opposed the request to consolidate the Belviq litigation, arguing that there are currently too few cases to justify establishing the formal proceedings, which the drug makers argued should be a move of last resort.

Although it is widely believed that the size of the litigation is expected to continue to grow over, the JPML issued an Order Denying Transfer (PDF) on August 10, indicating that informal coordination appears to be practicable at this time.

According to the order, the judges were unconvinced that a Belviq MDL should be formed at this time based on predictions of future filings, indicating that the panel is “disinclined to take into account the mere possibility of future filings in our centralization calculus.”

The JPML also said it was not convinced that centralization would be the most efficient path for the litigation.

“The record before us indicates that individualized factual issues concerning causation will predominate and diminish the potential to achieve significant efficiencies in an MDL. The actions allege a broad range of cancers without indicating the mechanism by which Belviq allegedly causes the various cancers,” the order states. “Additionally, some plaintiffs allegedly took Belviq for as little as a month or two, while others claim to have taken it for several years or more.”

The decision means the Belviq lawsuits will continue to move forward as individual lawsuits in various federal courts nationwide.

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