The federal litigation involving Taxotere and permanent hair loss continued to grow at a significant pace over the past month. A recent update from the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) indicates that 949 cases were pending in the centralized proceeding as of April 17th, up from 799 claims just a month ago.
All federally-filed Taxotere lawsuits were centralized in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana, last October in order to allow the docket to undergo coordinated discovery and other pretrial proceedings. Centralization was intended to promote judicial efficiency and preserve the resources of the Court, parties and witnesses involved in these cases.
Taxotere was brought to market by Sanofi-Aventis in 1996, and was initially approved to treat women with breast cancer. The chemotherapy agent is now indicated for several other malignancies, including head and neck cancer, gastric cancer, prostate cancer and non-small cell lung cancer.
Like any chemotherapy drug, Taxotere can cause alopecia. However, plaintiffs involved in this litigation contend that hair loss associated with its use is more likely to be permanent compared to alopecia that occurs with alternative cancer drugs. While Sanofi has long provided information about the potential for permanent hair loss to overseas regulators and consumers, plaintiffs contend that the U.S. labeling only included a vague and insufficient warning that “hair generally grows back”. In fact, the U.S. label’s “Adverse Events” section was only modified in December 2015 to note that cases of permanent alopecia had been reported among patients treated with the drug.
Looking ahead, it appears that May could turn out to be a key month for the federal Taxotere litigation. Notably, Science Day will be convened on May 3rd, at which time the parties will have the opportunity to apprise the Court of the medical and scientific issues central to these cases. Immediately following the conclusion of Science Day, the Court will convene the first of two meetings with Plaintiffs and Defendants Settlement Committees. A follow-up meeting will be held on Friday, May 12th, after the litigation’s regularly-scheduled status conference.
The Taxotere Settlement Committees were established last December, with the Court directing their members to engage in continuous general settlement discussions on a regular basis. The attorneys serving on the Settlement Committees were also directed not to partake in detailed discovery or other activities that might distract them from “pursuing avenues for potential resolution of some or all of the issues” set forth in Taxotere lawsuits.