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AstraZeneca Challenges Witnesses in Seroquel Suit

Wed, 03/11/2009 - 4:42am
By RANDALL CHASE AP Business Writer WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — Attorneys for drugmaker AstraZeneca are challenging the findings of medical experts who claim the company's anti-psychotic drug Seroquel causes diabetes. A Delaware judge began three days of hearings Tuesday to determine whether to allow testimony from three doctors in a case brought by a Kansas woman who claims that Seroquel caused her to develop diabetes. Attorneys for AstraZeneca argued that the reports submitted by the medical experts are scientifically and legally insufficient to justify Nina Scaife's claims. But attorneys for Scaife contend that their expert witnesses are qualified to testify, and that their opinions are supported by scientific literature. "This is a drug that has been generally accepted to cause this problem," said Paul Pennock, an attorney for Scaife. "The acceptance comes from extensive peer-reviewed literature." A ruling in favor of AstraZeneca could avert a trial, which is scheduled to start June 29 and which could be the first Seroquel lawsuit in the country to be presented to a jury. Earlier this year, a federal judge in Florida presiding over a consolidated case involving thousands of Seroquel lawsuits filed in federal courts granted summary judgment to AstraZeneca in two of the multi-district litigation cases. The judge ruled that, under Florida law, the plaintiffs' experts had failed to establish triable issues regarding a specific causal link between Seroquel and diabetes. Attorneys for AstraZeneca are hoping for a similar result in Delaware, one of at least three jurisdictions, along with New York and New Jersey, where Seroquel lawsuits have been filed in state courts. Jane Thorpe, an attorney for AstraZeneca, told Superior Court Judge Joseph Slights III that if he determines that the specific causation testimony of endocrinologist Dr. Valerie Peck is inadmissible, then he should grant summary judgment for AstraZeneca. "The plaintiff has to prove causation, ... and she has to prove it with expert testimony," Thorpe said, adding that Scaife's experts were relying on "cherry-picked data." The other experts seeking to offer general causation testimony on behalf of Scaife are psychiatrist Igor Galynker and endocrinologist Leonid Poretsky, both faculty members at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. According to AstraZeneca, the fact that Scaife was not diagnosed with diabetes until after she took Seroquel involves nothing more than a temporal relationship that is insufficient to support a causation argument. Thorpe noted that Scaife, who is black, had several risk factors for diabetes before taking Seroquel, including obesity, race, a family history of diabetes, and a history of hypertension and cigarette smoking. "She is a person who has been struggling with obesity much of her life," said Thorpe, noting that Scaife already was insulin resistant because of her obesity before she began to take Seroquel. In a brief supporting their motion for summary judgment, AstraZeneca lawyers noted that Scaife testified in a deposition that, "until recently, her diet consisted of slurpies and donuts, fish and fries from McDonald's and Burger King, and '(a) lot of Chinese food.'" But according to plaintiffs' lawyers who recently released court documents previously sealed in the federal litigation, internal AstraZeneca reports and e-mails by company officials suggest that they knew a decade ago that Seroquel caused diabetes and major weight gain. AstraZeneca officials have accused the plaintiffs' lawyers of "mischaracterizing" what the company knew. They maintain that the drug has been sold with adequate warnings based on available data. Attorneys for both sides in the Delaware lawsuit noted conflicting results from epidemiological studies to determine whether taking Seroquel results in statistically significant risk of developing diabetes. Pennock told the judge that the court is not in the position to decide which body of literature is better, but only whether the literature supporting the plaintiff's experts is "compelling." "They are indeed grounding themselves in the methods and procedures of science," said Pennock, rejecting AstraZeneca's claim that the plaintiff's experts instead were engaging in "litigation-driven advocacy."

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