In Zantac litigation at state level, drugmakers face claims for cancer types not covered in federal action

Multidistrict litigation is looming for several pharma companies—including GSK, Sanofi, Pfizer, Boehringer Ingelheim and Thermo Fisher—that manufactured and marketed Zantac. The federal litigation targets five types of cancers allegedly caused by consumption of the heartburn medicine.

But now, in state-level litigation, plaintiffs who used Zantac are filing lawsuits that cover other types of cancers, ramping up the concern for the companies already faced with the daunting task of defending themselves in federal court.

In the multidistrict litigation, plaintiffs originally identified 10 cancer types. But that list was pared to five types—bladder, esophageal, gastrointestinal, liver and pancreatic. Many of those who were pared from the multidistrict litigation—including plaintiffs with breast, kidney, colorectal, prostate and lung cancers—are now pursuing their cases in state courts.

In Delaware, for example, the law firm Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman last week filed 88 complaints on behalf of 7,291 claimants from all 50 states. Meanwhile, the firm of Keller Postman filed claims on behalf of more than 10,000 clients from Delaware, California, Illinois and Pennsylvania.

While Keller Postman is largely pursuing cases that involve cancers not designated in the multidistrict litigation, Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman has filed cases covering both designated and non-designated cancers, the firms said.

Two years ago, Zantac was pulled from the market when it was linked to unacceptable levels of N-nitrosodimethylamine, a potential cancer-causing agent, sparking a wave of litigation.

Last month, GSK and Sanofi insisted that there was no scientific evidence that Zantac causes cancer. Both companies pointed out that the level of carcinogen contained in the drug is lower than the amounts found in common foods such as packaged meats and frozen fish.

In an early development in the Zantac saga, four generic drug makers last month inked a $500,000 settlement with one plaintiff, Joseph Bayer, Bloomberg reported at the time. Just before his trial, Bayer dropped his case against Pfizer, GSK and Boehringer Ingelheim, Reuters reported.