Abbott, AbbVie get to defend testosterone lawsuits on their own turf

Ever since the FDA said in January it was investigating potential cardiovascular risks associated with testosterone supplements sold to treat "low T," lawsuits have been piling up against Abbott Laboratories ($ABT) and its recent spinoff, AbbVie ($ABBV), maker of one of the top-selling products in the category, AndroGel. A panel of judges has now decided that those suits will be consolidated in Chicago, where both companies are based.

The consolidated case will eventually encompass all lawsuits against manufacturers of testosterone supplements--a market that's worth $1.6 billion a year, according to Bloomberg. Other products in the category include Eli Lilly's ($LLY) underarm testosterone treatment Axiron, an injectable version of the hormone from Pfizer ($PFE), and a patch made by Actavis ($ACT).

AbbVie supported the consolidation of the suits "in the interest of consistency and efficiency," a spokesman for the company told Bloomberg. Pfizer and Actavis opposed combining the cases, but the judges' panel agreed with AbbVie's argument that because the cases involve common questions of fact, centralizing them would make the most sense, Bloomberg reports. U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly will oversee the cases.

For now, Kennelly will be focusing on the 45 or so AndroGel cases that have been filed in the U.S. so far. Those suits accuse Abbott and AbbVie of spending $80 million on an advertising campaign promoting the idea that testosterone supplements can combat typical signs of aging such as fatigue and low sex drive, according to Bloomberg. The ads helped drive $1 billion in AndroGel sales for AbbVie last year.

The consolidation of the lawsuits comes in the midst of an ongoing FDA investigation into the question of whether testosterone supplements raise the risk of heart attack and stroke. In November, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that the risk of death from heart attack or stroke jumped by 29% in men taking the hormone. A second study found that all men with preexisting heart disease faced an increased risk of death if they took testosterone supplements. In April, the European Medicines Agency said it would take a look at the risks of testosterone-boosting drugs, as well.

"Testosterone supplements are a lifestyle drug that treat a contrived condition by subjecting men to deadly risks of heart attacks and strokes," Alex MacDonald, a plaintiffs' lawyer in Boston who is representing patients, told Bloomberg. MacDonald is representing a patient who suffered a stroke while taking AndroGel and is now suing Abbott and AbbVie.

-here's the Bloomberg story