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As a growing number of Taxotere lawsuits continue to be filed by women nationwide, alleging that Sanofi-Aventis failed to warn users of the breast cancer drug that they may be left with permanent hair loss, both plaintiffs and the drug maker indicate that they are in favor of centralizing the cases before one judge for coordinated pretrial proceedings.
Taxotere (docetaxel) is a high potency taxane-based cancer drug, which was introduced by Sanofi-Aventis in 1996. While it was promoted as superior to existing low potency taxanes, such as Taxol, women have reported experiencing permanent hair loss problems from Taxotere.
While hair loss, or alopecia, is a common side effect of chemotherapy, it is usually temporary. According to allegations raised in Taxotere hair loss cases filed in U.S. District Courts nationwide, Sanofi-Aventis knew that their treatment was no more effective than alternative breast cancer treatments, yet carries a substantial risk or permanent alopecia. However, plaintiffs allege that false and misleading information was provided to consumers and physicians.
Last month, a motion was filed with the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, seeking to consolidate all Taxotere cases pending throughout the federal court system. Given the similar questions of fact and law raised in the complaints, plaintiffs Veronica Smith and Kelly Gahan indicated that the cases should be centralized before one judge as part of an MDL, or Multidistrict Litigation.
On August 16, Sanofi-Aventis issued a response (PDF) in support of the motion, agreeing that centralizing management will benefit all parties involved, reduce duplicative discovery, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings and serve the convenience of witnesses, parties and the courts.
The U.S. JPML has scheduled oral arguments over the motion to create a Taxotere hair lass MDL for September 29, in Washington, D.C. While the parties all seem to agree that an MDL is appropriate, different courts have been proposed as the most convenient forum for the Taxotere hair loss cases.
Smith and Gahan proposed that the cases be centralized in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, where at least five of the cases are currently pending.
Sanofi-Aventis indicates that it disagrees with this proposal, suggesting that the cases should be centralized instead in either Colorado or New Jersey. The drug maker argues that Colorado federal court is where Grahan’s case is filed, and that it was the first case filed in Taxotere litigation, meaning it is more procedurally developed than any other cases. There have already been several conferences and a number of motions pending before the judge. In addition, Sanofi-Aventis notes that Gahan is likely to be a bellwether trial candidate and has been a key activist in Taxotere litigation.
“Moreover, Ms. Gahan has been a leading patient advocate regarding Taxotere and permanent alopecia – the central issue in this litigation,” the response states. “In 2015 (and likely much earlier), Ms. Gahan was communicating directly with FDA officials regarding proposed changes to the Taxotere label regarding alopecia.”
According to the response motion filed by Sanofi-Aventis, the drug maker is aware of at least 48 lawsuits pending in 16 different federal courts nationwide. However, as Taxotere hair loss lawyers continue to review and file claims for women throughout the U.S., it is widely expected by both sides that the number of lawsuits involved in the litigation will increase dramatically in the coming months and years.
Taxotere Permanent Hair Loss
Plaintiffs maintain that Sanofi-Aventis knew or should have known about the link between Taxotere and hair loss problems that continue for years following treatment, yet placed their desire for profits before consumer safety, providing false and misleading information to the medical community in the United States. However, in several other countries, Taxotere warnings have been updated to include information about the risk of permanent hair, but the same information was not provided to American women and doctors.
As early as 2005, studies have found that women face a substantial risk of permanent hair loss with Taxotere, including findings that indicate one out of every 10 patients treated with Taxotere suffered hair loss that lasted up to 10 years and five months following chemotherapy, and in some cases longer.
If the cases are centralized before one judge for coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings, it is likely that a small group of cases will be prepared for early “bellwether” trials to help gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and expert testimony that will be repeated throughout the litigation. While the outcome of such early trials will not be binding in other cases, they may help the parties reach Taxotere settlements for women suffering permanent hair loss problems, avoiding the need for dozens of individual trials in courts throughout the U.S.