What began as 56 federal actions against the maker of the world’s best selling drug has grown into a thousand-member multidistrict litigation. And with the first trial just months away, Lipitor lawsuits continue to pile up. So just what did Pfizer do to draw the legal fire of thousands of former Lipitor users? Several allegations have been leveled at the New York–based pharmaceutical giant, ranging from overly aggressive and misleading marketing to inadequate product labeling.
Lipitor lawsuits began pouring in shortly after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced in 2012 that statins like Lipitor had been linked to incidents of memory loss, liver problems, and—perhaps most importantly—a “small increased risk” of heightened blood sugar, and therefore an increased chance of being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. The announcement reflected the findings of a large study of another statin, called the JUPITER trial, which involved over one thousand physicians in 26 countries. The JUPITER trial report revealed a 25 percent increased incidence of physician-reported diabetes in patients who took a particular statin.
Several other medical studies have been published linking Lipitor and similar statins to greater risk of diabetes. These include a 2012 study by researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, which found statins such as Lipitor resulted in a higher incidence of type 2 diabetes, especially in postmenopausal women. Another study, conducted in 2013 by Canadian researchers, examined the diabetes risks of Lipitor and five other statins. Lipitor was found to cause the greatest increase in diabetes risk, with a 22 percent higher incidence than Pravachol, another statin.
As if the possible diabetes risk was not enough, the benefits of statins like Lipitor have been questioned. A 2013 study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology concluded that a certain statin may negate the benefits of exercise, including greater cardiovascular fitness. On top of that, another study from the same year suggested statin users may be more likely to develop musculoskeletal problems.
In February 2014, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation moved to consolidate 56 Lipitor lawsuits in an MDL in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina. Plaintiffs in these cases claim that Pfizer failed to adequately warn doctors and patients of the diabetes risk Lipitor posed, especially to women.
For now Lipitor litigation is proceeding slowly but steadily, with the most recent status conference climaxing in an innocuous exchange over how to color-code Pfizer’s deposition designations. Meanwhile, new Lipitor lawsuits continue to be filed, adding to the more than 1,000 cases already included in the multidistrict litigation. Lipitor plaintiffs are no doubt looking forward to November 4, when the first Lipitor lawsuit is slated for trial. The results of this and the other bellwether trials will likely help determine the strength of other pending Lipitor lawsuits.