Discovery continues to progress in the federal litigation over the risk of diabetes from Lipitor, as lawyers involved in cases filed throughout the country are preparing to meet with the U.S. District Judge presiding over the lawsuits later this week.
Since February 2014, all Lipitor lawsuits filed by women who allege the popular diabetes drug caused them to develop diabetes have been centralized for coordinated pretrial proceedings before U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel in the District of South Carolina, as part of a federal MDL, or Multi-District Litigation.
According to the latest case list (PDF) released by the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, there are currently more than 1,350 complaints centralized before Judge Gergel to reduce duplicative discovery into common issues, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings and to serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and the courts.
All of the complaints involve similar claims that Pfizer failed to adequately warn about the link between Lipitor and diabetes, alleging that the drug maker placed their desire for profits before consumer safety by withholding information about the importance of monitoring for blood glucose changes during use of the blockbuster cholesterol drug.
In advance of a conference scheduled before Judge Gergel on Friday, the parties submitted a joint status report (PDF) on October 16, detailing the status of discovery in the Lipitor litigation and progress made with document production, as Pfizer continues to turn over millions of pages of internal company records surrounding the research and development of the medication.
Lipitor Diabetes Risk
Lipitor (atorvastatin) is one of the most widely used brand-name drugs in the United States, which has been aggressively marketed to reduce the risk of heart disease associated with high cholesterol.
Many of the women involved in the litigation allege that they were generally healthy before being prescribed Lipitor, and that they only agreed to take the medication as a precautionary measure. Plaintiffs maintain that if they had been provided adequate warnings about the diabetes risk, they never would have agreed to take Lipitor or may have avoided the disease by closely monitoring their blood glucose levels.
In February 2012, the FDA required Pfizer and the makers of other statin-based cholesterol drugs to provide updated warnings about the impact the medications may have on blood glucose levels. However, plaintiffs allege that Pfizer was aware of the possible risk of diabetes long before these warnings were issued, with some studies connecting statins to diabetes date as far back as 2004.
Discovery is on-going to obtain details that may establish when Pfizer knew or should have known about the potential that women on Lipitor may be at a particularly high risk of diabetes.
Lipitor Bellwether Trials
As part of the coordinated pretrial proceedings in the federal Lipitor litigation, a small group of cases are being prepared for early trial dates, known as “bellwether” cases.
The first Lipitor trials are expected to begin in October 2015, which are designed to help the parties gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that may be repeated throughout the litigation.
While the outcomes of these early trials are not binding in other cases, they may influence eventual negotiations with Pfizer to reach Lipitor settlement agreements that will be necessary to avoid hundreds of individual cases going before juries in U.S. District Courts nationwide.
In addition to cases pending before Judge Gergel in the federal Lipitor MDL, Pfizer also faces lawsuits brought by more than 300 plaintiffs in various state courts nationwide. The vast majority of those cases have been filed in the 22nd Judicial Circuit Court of Missouri, in St. Louis.