So what does heartburn have to do with diabetes? Funny you should ask. Big Pharma giant AstraZeneca is being sued by 15,000 people who claim that their atypical antipsychotic, Seroquel, causes diabetes. Seroquel is approved for bipolar disorder, but unless there are a lot more people with bipolar disorder than we know, it is clearly being use off label because it is AstraZeneca’s second best selling drug. What’s the best seller, at least for now? The heartburn/ulcer drug, Nexium:
Seroquel, used to treat bipolar disorder, brought in $4.03 billion last year, making it AstraZeneca’s second-biggest seller after its ulcer treatment Nexium. The company is trying to broaden the medicine’s use to offset revenue lost as pricing pressure in the U.S. reduces demand for Nexium. (Joe Schneider and Margaret Cronin Fisk, Bloomberg)
The implication that the atypical antipsychotic agents (not just AstraZeneca’s) increased risks of diabetes was strong enough that the FDA required the makers of these drugs to warn doctors as long ago as 2003. The claimants allege that the drug makers knew about the risk much before that but failed to disclose it to doctors and patients. Why kill a Golden Goose, right?
Whenever the subject of consumer lawsuits against drug companies comes up we start hearing the same talking points about “frivolous lawsuits,” greedy trial lawyers and “junk science.” The truth is, however, that all personal injury claims, of all sorts including traffic accidents, account for only about 10% of civil litigation. Most cases are plain old business cases where one company is suing another over some contract dispute or similar business issue. The all-time champions of frivolous lawsuits are the recording and movie industries, who don’t even bother to verify accurate identities of those they accuse of “stealing” from them. Greedy trial lawyers. There is no denying that there are greedy and sometimes dishonest people in any profession, but trial lawyers at least take a risk when they work. The corporate defense lawyers make their $500 an hour with no risk at all. They get their dough, win or lose. And since they are being paid by the hour (unlike trial lawyers), they have every incentive to drag out the proceedings in red tape and baseless legal proceedings. “Junk science”? That’s just science the corporations don’t like. In this case, one of AstraZeneca’s own scientists, Global Safety Officer Wayner Geller, wrote in an internal review of the matter that there was “reasonable evidence to suggest Seroquel therapy can cause” diabetes or related disorders.
With the Bush administration FDA overseeing and regulating drug safety in the same fashion as the Bushies regulated the financial industry, civil claims become the only form of redress and behavior modification for the bad behavior of corporations whose motive is to make up for loss of revenue caused by increased competition for their heartburn drug. These “frivolous lawsuits” protect us all.
Which I presume is the reason Big Pharma has put so much effort into making it legally difficult or impossible to sue them.