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The first federal bellwether trials for Propecia cases brought a men who allege that sexual problems were caused by the popular hair-loss drug will not be ready to go before a jury until at least September 2017, about one year later than first expected.
There are currently more than 1,000 product liability lawsuits pending against Merck involving sexual dysfunction from Propecia side effects, with about 700 of the cases pending in the federal court system.
Since April 2012, the federal Propecia lawsuits have been centralized before U.S. District Judge John Gleeson in the Eastern District of New York, as part of a multidistrict litigation or MDL.
All of the complaints involve similar allegations that the drug maker failed to adequately warn about the link between Propecia and permanent sexual problems, such as erectile dysfunction, decreased libido, genital shrinkage, infertility and problems with cognition.
As part of the coordinated pretrial proceedings in the Propecia MDL, a small group of cases are being prepared for early trial dates, known as “bellwether” cases. While the outcomes of these trials will not be binding on other claims, they are designed to help the parties gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that is likely to be repeated throughout the litigation, and may facilitate eventual Propecia settlement negotiations with Merck.
In November 2014, Judge Gleeson issued an order indicating the parties would prepare a group of Propecia bellwether cases for trial, which were expected to be narrowed down to four cases eligible to go to trial by October 10, 2016.
In an amended order (PDF) issued on September 25, the discovery and trial plan for the bellwether lawsuits was pushed back about one year, indicating that the Court does not expect the final selections to be made until late October 2016. These four picks, known as the First Bellwether Tranche, will then undergo case-specific discovery, additional depositions, and pretrial motions practice, with the anticipation that the first tranche will be trial ready by September 2017.
Propecia Sexual Dysfunction Problems
Propecia (finasteride) is a prescription medication that was aggressively marketed by Merck to help men restore natural hair loss that occurs with male pattern baldness.
The medication was originally developed by Merck as an enlarged prostate treatment, marketed as Proscar since 1992. It was later approved to treat male pattern baldness, when it was rebranded as Propecia.
Although the medication does not treat any disease or combat any health risk, Propecia became a top seller for Merck, amid direct-to-consumer advertisements that encouraged men with male-pattern baldness to seek the prescription from their doctors.
According to allegations raised in the complaints, Merck failed to adequately warn consumers or the medical community that men who take the drug to help improve their overall quality of life may be left with long-term sexual dysfunction problems that continue long after the medication is no longer used.
Prior warning information provided by the drug maker suggested that any sexual problems associated with the medication were rare, and that the dysfunction typically resolved after use of the medication is discontinued.
Even after many men reported experiencing permanent sexual complications after Propecia use, Merck continued to provide information suggesting that the problems were temporary until the Propecia warning label was updated in April 2012.