Belviq Colon Cancer Lawsuit Cleared To Move Forward Over Diet Drug Maker’s Failure to Warn

A federal judge ruled the plaintiff's complaint contained enough details to support pursuing most of her Belviq colon cancer claims under Ohio law.

A federal judge has cleared the way for a lawsuit to move forward that alleges the weight loss drug Belviq caused colon cancer, rejecting a motion by the drug maker to have much of the claim dismissed, while barring the plaintiffs from pursuing punitive damages for failing to warn about the potential side effect.

Belviq was introduced in 2012, as the first new diet pill allowed on the market in the United States in years. Although it was introduced following a string of serious safety concerns linked to other weight-loss medications, plaintiffs indicate the drug makers failed to adequately study the side effects of Belviq or disclose that the diet pill may cause cancer to develop.

Following a review of the results of a post-marketing study, the FDA required a Belviq recall in February 2020, after identifying increased incidences of cancer among users.

Since the recall, Eisai and Arena Pharmaceuticals have faced a steadily growing number of Belviq lawsuits  brought by former users, alleging that the diet drug caused various types of cancer to develop, including colon cancer, breast cancer, kidney cancer and others.

One of the early complaints (PDF) was brought by Christine Johnson in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, indicating that she developed colon cancer after taking Belviq for several months in 2016. However, the drug makers sought to have most of her claims dismissed, arguing that she had not presented enough details to support all of the claims.

In a Memorandum Opinion and Order (PDF) issued earlier this month, U.S. Magistrate Judge Carmen E. Henderson found there is enough to support most of Johnson’s claims. However, the order grants defendants dismissal of Johnson’s claims involving design defect, breach of implied warranty of merchantability and punitive damages. Her claims involving failure to warn, failure to conform to representations, breach of express warranty, fraudulent misrepresentation and loss of consortium remain, meaning the case will move forward.

The claims seeking punitive damages, which are intended to punish defendants for reckless behavior and gross negligence, were dismissed under a provision of Ohio law, which only allows such damages for an FDA-approved product if the agency has made a finding of misrepresentation or fraud.

Belviq Cancer Concerns

The FDA’s decision to approve Belviq was immediately controversial, and the consumer watchdog group Public Citizen warned in 2012 that there would likely be problems with Belviq. The group warned at that time that the diet drug would eventually need to be removed from the market, like a number of other previously-approved weight-loss treatments.

In July 2019, an expert analysis of clinical trial data was published by the American College of Cardiology, which looked at the effectiveness and side effects of Belviq, including the largest concern at the time: cardiovascular risks.

While not publicly announced until months later, the data contained concerning indications about a potential link between Belviq and cancer. However, the FDA did not issue Belviq cancer warnings until January 2020, and several weeks later it was determined the weight loss drug needed to be removed from the market.

Since the strongest sales for Belviq came over the last few years the drug was on the market, it is widely expected that additional lawsuits will be filed in the coming months and years, as former users are diagnosed and discover that their cancer was caused by Belviq before the recall.

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