Diet Drug Makers Oppose Centralizing Cancer Lawsuits Over Belviq
Although a growing number of Belviq cancer lawsuits continue to be filed throughout the federal court system, manufacturers of the recalled diet drug indicate that the litigation does not justify consolidating pretrial proceedings before one U.S. District Judge.
Belviq (lorcaserin) was introduced in 2012, as the first new diet drug approved in years, after a steady stream of recalls and problems associated with other weight loss medications. However, following a large number of reports involving users diagnosed with cancer in post-marketing studies, the FDA required the drug maker to issue a Belviq recall in February 2020.
There are currently at least 13 product liability lawsuits filed throughout the federal court system, each involving similar allegations that the drug makers failed to adequately warn about the cancer risk from Belviq. However, the number of claims is expected to increase dramatically in the coming months.
To help coordinate and manage the growing litigation, a group of plaintiffs recently joined together to file a motion to transfer with the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) last month, asking that cases pending nationwide be centralized in the Eastern District of Louisiana for discovery and pretrial proceedings. However, since then a number of other plaintiffs have also called for Belviq centralization, but some want the cases in the Middle District of Florida or other venues.
In a response (PDF) filed on May 5, the diet drug makers Eisai Inc. and Arena Pharmaceuticals indicate that they oppose consolidation of the cases, arguing that establishing class action-like consolidation in an MDL should be a move of last resort.
Known as an MDL, or multidistrict litigation, such consolidation is common in complex pharmaceutical litigation, where a large number of claims have been presented by former users of the same medication, alleging similar injuries. Plaintiffs say centralizing the Belviq cancer claims would help avoid duplicative discovery, prevent contradictory rulings from different judges, and serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses, and the courts, according to the plaintiffs.
According to the defendants’ response in opposition to the Belviq MDL, the cases are not similar enough to justify consolidation, since plaintiffs have a variety of different injuries and forms of cancer that developed following use of the drug. The companies also argue that claim coordination could be handled informally, and that centralization will slow the proceedings down, instead of streamlining them.
With only 13 Belviq cases currently pending throughout the federal court system, the drug makers also claim the numbers are too low to establish a multi-district litigation at this point.
Belviq Litigation Likely To Increase In Size
Lawsuits over Belviq started to emerge after the controversial diet drug was removed from the market early last year, but many former users remain unaware of the link between Belviq and cancer diagnosed in recent years. In addition, many former users may continue to be diagnosed with cancer in the future.
In July 2019, an expert analysis of the CAMEILLIA-TIMI 61 Trial was published by the American College of Cardiology, looking 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 pancreatic cancer, colorectal cancer and lung 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.
The U.S. JPML is expected to consider oral arguments on the motion, including any response filed by the drug maker, during a hearing this summer. The panel will determine whether centralized management is appropriate at this early stage of the litigation, and the most appropriate forum for the pretrial proceedings.
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