Senate mulls bill to keep pharma documents unsealed

The U.S. Senate is looking at spreading the sunshine. Now that lawmakers have pushed through a mandate for drugmakers to disclose payments to doctors, they're considering the "Sunshine in Litigation Act," which would make it more difficult for judges to seal court documents in pharmaceuticals lawsuits.

As Pharmalot reports, drugmakers often persuade judges to seal trial data and internal documents filed during legal disputes. The argument often is that this information amounts to "trade secrets" that would harm a company's business if revealed. Critics say this practice keeps some crucial safety information hidden from view. So, the Senate bill would require judges to consider public health before agreeing to place documents under seal.

"These court-sanctioned secrecy agreements prevent government officials or consumer groups from learning about defective and dangerous products that can stay on the market unchallenged," Sen. Herb Kohl said in a statement.

Kohl specifically cited two cases in which "crucial" documents remained under seal, Pharmalot says. In one, a lawsuit over AstraZeneca's Seroquel, the court unsealed some documents, but kept submissions to foreign regulators and correspondence between sales reps and doctors under wraps. In litigation over Eli Lilly's Zyprexa, key information on side effects such as weight gain and diabetes remained under seal until it was leaked to the media.

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