The drug maker GlaxoSmithKline seems permanently out of fighting mode, as it agrees to settle nearly 200 lawsuits with patients who say the antidepressant Paxil was responsible for birth defects. In fact, GSK has settled every Paxil lawsuit since a Philadelphia court ordered the company to pay a single plaintiff $2.5 million in October.
“When you’re dealing with children with birth defects that’s a concern for the company,” said Jamie Sheller, one of the lawyers defending GSK. “GSK gave it their all at that trial…Despite that, the plaintiffs were successful in the case and that set a tone for their analysis. Even though they’ve mounted an excellent and strong defense they weren’t able to overcome the plaintiff’s position.”
Settlement aside, GSK maintains that it was not responsible for any wrongdoing regarding Paxil and the alleged birth defects. “GSK believes it acted properly and responsibly in conducting its clinical trial program for Paxil, in marketing the medicine, in monitoring its safety once it was approved for use and in updating pregnancy information in the medicine’s label as new information became available,” said a spokesperson for the company. And in post-trial motions, the company claimed “there is no established — or even speculative — link between Paxil and interrupted aortic arch,” a common birth defect listed by plaintiffs.
But in opening arguments for the Philadelphia lawsuit, the plaintiffs’ attorney Sean Tracey read a 1997 memo by GSK executive Bonnie Rossello to the court. “If neg, results can bury,” the memo ordered, implying a clear intention to conceal results that would harm the drug maker’s profits. “They said if there’s any doubt, take it out,” Tracey told the jury. “They do not want to scare anybody. It’s a very competitive marketplace. It’s a multibillion-dollar industry.”
In 2008, Paxil generated $943 million for GSK, more than 2% of the world’s second largest drug maker’s revenue. These settlements indicate that more jury decisions like the $2.5 million award in October would be too harmful to the company’s image to risk.
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