Judge scolds Novartis in Zometa injury case

Novartis ($NVS) not only failed to persuade a U.S. judge to overturn a Zometa damages award. The company also found itself raked over the coals in a scathing ruling. As Pharmalot reports, U.S. District Judge James Beaty let a $1.3 million damages award stand in the case of Rita Fussman, a Zometa user who suffered osteonectrosis of the jaw—and took Novartis officials to task for failing to share the drug's potential dangers.

In fact, Judge Beaty said the evidence presented in the Fussman case supported the jury's finding that Novartis managers actually engaged in a cover-up to keep the risks of jawbone damage quiet. Not only that, Beaty wrote, but those managers evidently concealed the osteonecrosis risk "with the knowledge and approval of high-ranking officials within the company" and did so "for purely financial reasons, in order to protect its marketing of bisphosphonate drugs."

Questions about bisphosphonate therapy have been mounting over the last several years, with osteonecrosis of the jaw being just one potential risk. Novartis faces a number of lawsuits alleging injury from Zometa therapy, and so does Merck ($MRK), which has been fighting litigation over its Fosamax drug. As Law360 reports, Novartis has won a few Zometa cases and lost others; two juries delivered verdicts in the company's favor, while two levied damages against it, including the jury in the Fussman case. Hundreds of more cases are pending.

- read the Pharmalot news