Fifty-three diabetes drug lawsuits were consolidated this week by the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML). The cases, alleging that drugs including Januvia and Byetta are linked to pancreatic cancer, were combined before the U.S. District Judge Anthony J. Battaglia in the Southern District of California. In an unusual step, defendants in the MDL include multiple companies - Merck & Co. Inc., Novo Nordisk Inc., Eli Lilly & Co. and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. – that marketed similar products. In its decision, the JPML said that the cancer victims’ allegations were similar enough that the claims could be considered as one case, despite the fact that the drugs were manufactured by different companies. Some of the plaintiffs had also been treated with more than one of the drugs in question, making the sharing of similar documents and witnesses during discovery highly likely.
More than fifty patients now allege that pancreatic cancer resulted from use of the drugs.
The drugs in question are part of a class known as incretin mimetics and have been hit with accusations that they lead to an increased risk of pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer. Specific brands include Januvia, Janumet, Victoza, and Byetta.
There’s been some controversy over the drugs’ safety, with the FDA warning the public as far back as 2008 that acute pancreatitis had been reported in post-marketing analysis. Label changes were ordered for Januvia and Janumet to indicate the risk of chronic and fatal inflammations, and both the FDA and the European Medicines Agency launched their own studies to ascertain whether there was a risk to the public. In a surprise twist, the EMA’s investigation recently concluded that there was no discernible link between incretin mimetics and pancreatic cancer. The FDA has stated that it agrees with the EMA’s findings, though its own study’s results have not yet been made public. Previous independent studies that reported an increased risk of pancreatitis from incretin mimetics have been criticized for failing to substantiate the claims, with the EMA in particular citing the medical journal Diabetes’ study as having ‘potential sources of bias’ and ‘methodological limitations.’
Medical debate notwithstanding, more than fifty patients, and the families of patients, who received the drugs, now allege that pancreatic cancer resulted from use of the drugs. The majority of the cases were filed in California’s Southern District – hence the consolidation there – though some cases also come from Arizona, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas and Colorado.
The cases have been consolidated before without opposition from the companies or plaintiffs. The MDL is In re: Incretin-Based Therapies Products Liability Litigation, case number 2452.