After convincing a trial judge to toss more than 2,000 Accutane liability cases, Roche will have to head back to court to defend against allegations the acne treatment caused Crohn’s disease.
An appeals court in New Jersey reinstated the cases, finding that the trial court wrongfully barred expert testimony from plaintiff expert witnesses. The ruling comes right on the heels of another appeals decision in New Jersey that reinstated a separate group of 335 cases claiming the Roche drug caused inflammatory bowel disease, according to the New Jersey Law Journal.
With the two decisions, Roche faces more than 2,500 Accutane liability cases in New Jersey’s Atlantic County alone, according to the publication.
A Roche spokesperson said "medical and scientific communities have demonstrated that there is no link between Accutane and Crohn's disease."
"Roche is disappointed that the appellate court is allowing the plaintiffs’ experts to offer opinions that disregard this science, opinions which they themselves have only offered in lawsuits," the company's spokesperson said via email. "Roche will ask the New Jersey Supreme Court to take up this crucial issue, which has the potential to impact a broad range of lawsuits involving important public health issues."
The drugmaker's representative added that "FDA-approved warnings for Accutane fully describe the potential risks of using" the med.
As Judge Susan Reisner notes in the most recent opinion, the Accutane saga has been going on for more than a decade. Back in 2015, a trial judge sided with Roche and dismissed 2,076 cases claiming the acne drug caused Crohn’s disease by stating one plaintiff witness was an “expert on a mission,” according to the recent opinion. The trial judge also believed plaintiffs were “cherry picking” evidence, the document states. The appeals panel disagreed and reinstated the cases.
The “trial court misapplied its discretion in finding that the methodologies” plaintiffs witnesses used “were scientifically unreliable and inadmissible,” the opinion states.
Accutane once was a big-selling med for Roche and a staple therapy for acne sufferers; the Swiss drugmaker pulled its product for “business reasons” in 2009. The company already was facing hundreds of liability lawsuits at the time.
On multiple occasions, Roche has had success appealing multimillion-dollar jury verdicts for the med. In July last year, the company successfully fought off an $18 million verdict as an appellate panel ruled the trial judge “seriously erred” in allowing some revelations in court while restricting others.
Before that, Roche prevailed in appeals against a $25 million verdict in August 2015, a $2.1 million verdict in 2014 and a $10.5 million verdict in 2010.
Editor's note: This story was updated with a statement from Roche.