AstraZeneca downplayed Seroquel risks, lawyers say

WASHINGTON Fri Feb 27, 2009 5:55pm EST

WASHINGTON Feb 27 (Reuters) - AstraZeneca PLC (AZN.L) failed to warn physicians and patients about risks associated with its widely used schizophrenia drug Seroquel, plaintiffs' attorneys said on Friday.

The lawyers said documents that were just unsealed in a U.S. federal court case showed AstraZeneca knew about the risk of weight gain and diabetes in 2000.

The company "not only failed to warn physicians and patients about the risk of diabetes but they also marketed them in a way that represented that there was no risk," Ed Blizzard, an attorney at Blizzard, McCarthy & Nabers in Houston, told reporters during a conference call.

Blizzard's firm is representing patients who say they developed diabetes from taking Seroquel, part of the family of drugs known as atypical antipsychotics.

The attorney said internal e-mails and other documents showed AstraZeneca officials had evidence of the drug's link to weight gain but used promotions suggesting Seroquel had no effect on weight or could lead to weight loss. Weight gain is a risk factor for development of diabetes.

Seroquel is AstraZeneca's second-biggest selling drug with $4.5 billion in sales in 2008.

"AstraZeneca has studied Seroquel extensively and shared all relevant and required data with the FDA," company spokesman Tony Jewell said.

The drugmaker "believes that the Seroquel label has always provided adequate and appropriate information and warnings based on available data," he added.

The first two cases alleging harm from Seroquel have been thrown out of court for insufficient evidence, Jewell said.

About 9,000 lawsuits involving 15,000 patients have been filed, and many have been consolidated in Florida. One case is scheduled to go to trial in Delaware on June 22.

AstraZeneca recently changed Seroquel's label to make some of the warning information more prominent, Jewell said.

(Reporting by Lisa Richwine, editing by Bernard Orr)

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