More than 1,000 lawsuits over the stop-smoking drug Chantix will come home to roost in an Alabama court. U.S. Judge Inge Johnson will handle pretrial work on 1,200 claims that the Pfizer ($PFE) medication can increase the risk of suicide and that the company should have done more to warn patients about its potential side effects.
About 60 percent of the plaintiffs implicate Chantix in suicide, attempted suicide or other injuries, Reuters reports. As one of the plaintiffs' attorneys notes, the company didn't test the drug before it was approved in patients with psychological problems. Some new studies are now recruiting people with mental illness--including bipolar disorder--to see how Chantix works in those patients.
A Pfizer spokeswoman says the drugmaker "acted responsibly and appropriately" in developing and marketing the drug. "There is no reliable scientific evidence that Chantix causes the neuropsychiatric events cited in these lawsuits," spokeswoman Victoria Davis said in a statement. When FDA added a boxed warning of possible "serious mental health events" to Chantix's label in 2007, it also required Pfizer to conduct a clinical trial to see how often neuropsychiatric symptoms occur in patients using the drug, including patients with underlying mental health issues.
Johnson's court now oversees those 1,200 claims, plus any new, similar cases filed. The Birmingham News said the number is expected to top 2,000, citing officials. "The centralization will serve the convenience of the parties and witnesses and promote the just and efficient conduct of the litigation," the court said, according to Reuters. Depositions are expected to begin during the first quarter, with the first cases tried next year.