Januvia and Byetta lawsuit filed over increased risk of pancreatic cancer from diabetes drugs

by Eric Pearson

Januvia helps control high blood sugar associated with diabetes by inhibiting the enzyme DPP-4 to increase the production of insulin. Byetta is in a class of drugs called incretin mimetics, which improve blood sugar control by mimicking the action of a hormone called glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1). Among other things, the drugs allow insulin, which lowers blood sugar, to work more effectively in the body. However, experts have linked the drugs to serious conditions such as pancreatitis, thyroid cancer and pancreatic cancer.

A wrongful death lawsuit has been filed in federal court in California alleging the drug makers failed to warn doctors and patients that the Januvia and Byetta could cause pancreatic cancer. Teresa Sharit of Alabama has filed the suit as the surviving spouse of her late husband Charles Sharit, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2012. Her lawsuit names as defendants Januvia and Byetta drug makers Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp., Amylin Pharmaceuticals, Inc., and Eli Lilly and Company.

Mr. Sharit was prescribed Januvia and Byetta in May of 2010 to treat his type II diabetes. He continued to use the drugs even after he received his pancreatic cancer diagnosis in October of 2011 – through at least 2012. The lawsuit alleges that neither Mr. Sharit nor his doctor were aware of the medications’ risk of causing the cancer despite the fact that research potentially linking the drugs to pancreatic cancer was published as early as February 2010.

The lawsuit alleges that the medications are defective and that a design flaw causes pancreatic cancer. The lawsuit also alleges that the drugs’ benefits do not outweigh the “extreme risk” of taking the medications, especially when adequate alternatives are available. The lawsuit also claims that the drug-makers concealed from patients and the medical community that Byetta and Januvia side effects can cause life-threatening pancreatic cancer from patients The suit claims that the defendants “willfully, wantonly, and with malice withheld the knowledge of increased risk of pancreatic cancer in users of Byetta and Januvia to prevent any chances of their product’s registration being delayed or rejected by FDA.”

MDL 2452, In re Incretin-Based Therapies Products Liability Litigation

In August, 97 federal lawsuits in which plaintiffs allege that three incretin-based diabetes drugs caused their pancreatic cancer were centralized by the federal judicial panel on multidistrict litigation in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California (In Re: Incretin Mimetics Products Liability Litigation, MDL Docket No. 2452, JPMDL).

The panel found that all Plaintiffs in all of the lawsuits allege that the use of one or more of four anti-diabetic incretin based medications—Janumet (sitagliptin combined with metformin), Januvia (sitagliptin), Byetta (exenatide) and Victoza (liraglutide)— caused them or their decedent to develop pancreatic cancer. The panel noted that the various Plaintiffs made highly similar allegations about each of the four drugs that manage blood insulin levels and the propensity of those drugs to cause pancreatic cancer. The cases were centralized in order to eliminate duplicative discovery; prevent inconsistent pretrial rulings (particularly on such matters as Daubert rulings on expert witnesses); and conserve the resources of the parties, their counsel, and the judiciary.

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by Eric Pearson

Eric Pearson is a licensed attorney and a partner at HO&P who handles commercial and personal injury lawsuits. Eric has been selected to the Super Lawyers List, a Thomson Reuters publication.