Officials Hid Bone Drugs' Risks, Lawyer Tells Jurors
AG officials downplayed risks that the drugmaker’s bone-strengthening
medicines Aredia and Zometa could destroy patients’ jaws, a lawyer
for a woman suing the company told a North Carolina jury.
of the Basel, Switzerland-based drug company got reports from doctors as
early as 2002 that Rita Fussman and other cancer patients taking Aredia
and Zometa to prevent bone loss during treatment suffered irreplaceable
jawbone damage, Bob Germany, a lawyer for Fussman’s family, said in
opening statements in a trial over the medicines. Fussman died in 2009 of
complications from breast cancer.
family contends Novartis didn’t adequately warn that Aredia and Zometa
could cause disfiguring jaw damage that forced cancer patients such as Fussman
to subsist on baby food, Germany told jurors in federal court in Winston-Salem.
and their doctors “were not told the whole story about these drugs,”
Germany said. “In fact, we were not told half the story.”
Fussman family’s lawsuit is the third product-liability case to go
to trial over the bone-strengthening treatments, which had 2009 sales of
$1.5 billion, according to Novartis’s annual report. Both drugs are
still on the market.
month, a New Jersey jury rejected a woman’s claims that Aredia and
Zometa caused her jaw deterioration. In October 2009, a Montana jury ordered
Novartis to pay $3.2 million in damages to a cancer patient who made the
same claims over the medicines.
lawyer countered in his opening statement that Aredia and Zometa helped
make it easier for patients like the 76-year-old Fussman to deal with cancer
and that her history of repeated dental surgeries may have caused her jaw
never had excruciating bone pain while she was on Zometa,” Bruce Berger,
one of the company’s lawyers, told jurors. The drugs allowed her “to
live without the pain of cancer,” he added.
is facing almost 700 suits over the bone- strengthening medicines, according
to court filings.
of the cases have been consolidated before a federal judge in Tennessee
while others, like Fussman’s, have been sent back to their home courts
for trial. Fussman lived in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Still other cases
have been heard in state courts around the country.
case is Estate of Rita Fussman v. Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp., 06-CV-000149,
U.S. District Court, Middle District of North Carolina (Winston-Salem).