Jury is out in another case linking Novartis' Zometa to jawbone death

Novartis ($NVS) is one step closer to knowing how its latest round of Zometa litigation works out. After 11 days of testimony, the jury has started deliberating its verdict on plaintiff Beverly Meng's claims that the Swiss drugmaker downplayed the bone drug's risks.

The New Jersey court battle is one of many cases gathered for consideration there. Like others, Meng alleged that Zometa caused her jawbone to deteriorate. Novartis was reluctant to admit Zometa's links to osteonecrosis of the jaw, her suits claims. And after reports of jawbone death in Zometa patients started surfacing, one of her expert witnesses testified, Novartis held off on disclosing the risks.

According to Law 360, Meng's lawyers cited internal Novartis emails, saying that the company was more concerned about the drug's sales than about spreading the news about potential links between bisphosphonate drugs like Zometa and osteonecrosis of the jaw.

Novartis's witnesses maintained the company adequately disclosed the drug's links to jawbone death. Along with other makers of osteoporosis drugs, the company added warnings about Zometa's potential to trigger the problem in 2005. The company also called witnesses to combat the basis of Meng's other claims--the allegation that Zometa caused her jawbone disease, Law 360 reports.

The company has lost out in other Zometa cases. In 2011, Novartis lost another osteonecrosis case, and the judge in that federal court not only denied the company's motion to overturn the jury verdict, but also scolded the company for concealing the drug's risks "for purely financial reasons." In November 2012, a jury awarded another osteonecrosis patient $10.45 million in damages for her jawbone injury.

Novartis can take heart in the fact that it's not alone in fighting litigation over a bone drug. Merck ($MRK) faced more than 1,600 cases involving the osteoporosis treatment Fosamax and its links to jawbone death. That company has fought off claims in two bellwether cases and convinced a judge to reduce another jury award. A fourth was tossed out before trial.

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