(Reuters) - Eli Lilly on Friday was cleared of liability in the first trial involving claims that its antidepressant Cymbalta caused severe withdrawal symptoms, including suicidal thoughts and electric shock-like sensations, the company said.
Eli Lily has been sued by roughly 250 plaintiffs who say that the company downplayed warnings about symptoms that can occur when patients quit the popular drug, which has annual sales of about $3.9 billion. The trial this week on the lawsuit filed by Claudia Herrera in federal court in California is the first of four trials over Cymbalta withdrawal scheduled for this month. The trial started on Tuesday, and the jury returned its verdict on Friday.
"While Lilly is sympathetic to Ms. Herrera's conditions, we are pleased with the jury's verdict," Lilly spokeswoman Celeste Stanley said.
Lawyers for Herrera did not immediately return requests for comment.
Cymbalta, part of a class of antidepressants known as serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2004 to treat major depressive disorder. Later, approval was expanded to include generalized anxiety disorder and fibromyalgia.
Its label warns that 1 percent or more of users who discontinue Cymbalta may experience symptoms like nausea, irritability and insomnia, and that other symptoms such as sensory disturbances and seizures have been reported.
Plaintiffs suing Lilly allege that withdrawal symptoms are far more common, pointing to a 2005 analysis from the Journal of Affective Disorders that found more than 44 percent of patients reported at least one discontinuation symptom.
According to Herrera's lawsuit, she started taking Cymbalta in 2006 for anxiety. When her doctor instructed her in 2012 to ease off gradually, she said that she suffered electric-like "zaps," anxiety, spasms and suicidal ideation, among other symptoms.
Herrera accused Lilly of downplaying its warnings to make the drug more marketable. Lilly said in court filings that it gave sufficient warnings and that Herrera's doctor was aware of the potential risks.
A similar case is set for trial in California starting on Tuesday.
Reporting by Jessica Dye in New York; Editing by Leslie Adler