Novo Nordisk wins appeal over claims that diabetes drug causes cancer

Novo Nordisk logo is seen in Bagsvaerd outside of Copenhagen
Scanpix Denmark/Liselotte Sabroe via REUTERS
  • Panel finds MDL judge properly excluded key plaintiff expert
  • Eli Lilly, Merck, AstraZeneca unit previously dropped from case

(Reuters) - A federal appeals court declined to revive claims that Novo Nordisk's Type 2 diabetes drug Victoza can cause pancreatic cancer.

A unanimous panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday that U.S. District Judge Anthony Battaglia, who presided over a multidistrict litigation over similar diabetes drugs made by Novo Nordisk and other companies, did not abuse his discretion in excluding the plaintiffs' sole expert on the drug's alleged cancer link, Robert Gale.

The panel wrote that Gale was "alone" in the scientific community in his view that Victoza causes cancer, and that he admittedly did not independently review studies published since 2015 finding no link, supporting Battaglia's March 2021 ruling granting summary judgment to Novo Nordisk.

The company said in a statement that it was pleased by the ruling and continued to "firmly stand behind the safety of Victoza."

The drug brought the company about $2.2 billion in revenue in 2021, out of total sales of $16.8 billion, according to its annual report.

Timothy Becker of Johnson Becker, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Circuit Judges Sydney Thomas and M. Margaret McKeown and U.S. District Judge William Orrick of the Northern District of California, sitting by designation, joined in the unsigned opinion.

The MDL before Battaglia included about 1,500 plaintiffs and originally targeted not only Novo Nordisk but also AstraZeneca PLC's Amylin Pharmaceuticals, Eli Lilly and Co, and Merck & Co Inc. However, plaintiffs said in an August 2021 filing that an appeal as to those defendants was "not warranted," without providing further details.

Plaintiffs accused the companies of failing to warn of the drugs' risk of pancreatic cancer, after a 2013 study found that patients using them had precancerous pancreatic cells.

A California judge in April 2021 dismissed similar claims by about 500 plaintiffs in a coordinated state court proceeding.

The case is Adams v. Novo Nordisk A/S, 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 21-55342.

For plaintiffs: Timothy Becker of Johnson Becker, Hunter Shkolnik of Napoli Shkolnik, Ryan Thompson of Watts Guerra and Tor Hoerman of TorHoerman Law

For Novo Nordisk: Loren Brown, Ilana Eisenstein, Lucas Przymusinski and Raymond Williams of DLA Piper

Read more:

Judge shuts down MDL claiming link between diabetes drugs and pancreatic cancer

Calif. judge tosses state claims that diabetes drugs cause pancreatic cancer

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Brendan Pierson reports on product liability litigation and on all areas of health care law. He can be reached at