Legal eagles eye AZ's battle over Seroquel

Lawyers are keeping a close eye on the Seroquel case in Delaware Superior Court. With more than 15,000 plaintiffs claiming injury from the AstraZeneca drug, there's lots of money potentially at stake. And the current case offers a blueprint of AstraZeneca's planned defense. The gist: Cast doubt on a causal link between Seroquel and diabetes, by pointing out plaintiffs' risk factors for the disease.

"In my view, the evidence will show that known risk factors, such as obesity and strong family history, is the cause of the diabetes complained of. Seroquel really is a safe and effective drug," AZ attorney Michael Kelly told The News Journal. The plaintiff's lawyer disagrees (of course), saying that risk factors don't negate Seroquel's role in developing the disease, which he likened to pouring gasoline onto a fire.

Meanwhile, AstraZeneca has already spent $500 million on legal fees related to the Seroquel cases, and it expects those fees to exceed its insurance coverage, the company's annual report states. But the key expense would be judgments or settlements, and analysts say those figures could be reasonable--or, in a worst-case scenario, similar to the $10 billion Wyeth has spent on litigation over Fen-Phen.

Damien Conover of Morningstar told the newspaper that he expects the AstraZeneca litigation to wind up in a manner similar to Eli Lilly's Zyprexa cases. Lilly agreed to pay $1.2 billion to settle plaintiffs' lawsuits over the drug. Conover said, "That's a neighborhood that most analysts are comfortable with accepting."

- read the News Journal story