Lilly faces first trial over claims of Cymbalta withdrawal symptoms

Earlier this year, a U.S. judge dealt Eli Lilly ($LLY) a stinging blow after refusing to toss out lawsuits claiming that the company downplayed withdrawal symptoms linked to its blockbuster antidepressant, Cymbalta. Now Lilly is facing the first U.S. trials over the claims, a critical moment as it attempts to disentangle itself from a raft of litigation.

As Reuters reports, Lilly will confront its first U.S. trial for the drug on Tuesday in a California federal court, with a similar case slated for trial in the state on Aug. 11 and two more scheduled to start in Virginia later this month. There are about 5,000 cases claiming that Lilly soft-pedaled serious withdrawal symptoms for the drug including anxiety, electric-like "zaps" and thoughts of suicide, by saying the issues only affected a small percentage of patients quitting the med.

The early cases could be a critical test of litigation over the drug, Reuters points out, which are hitting even as the company is dealing with generic competition for its med. Cymbalta brought in $3.9 billion in sales in 2013 before losing patent protection at the end of that year, and posted $561 million during the first half of 2015.

"The success or failure of these cases will give us a good sense of how they are playing to these juries," R. Brent Wisner, a lawyer for the plaintiff in the first California case, told Reuters. "Even if we lose, we have every intention of moving forward with the litigation."

A spokeswoman declined to comment to the news service specifically on the first case up for trial, but said the company would vigorously defend that case and others. 

Lilly could face a tough road ahead as it attempts to lay claims to rest. The company has enjoyed a few wins, with a New York judge last year denying a plaintiff's allegations over Cymbalta. And a federal judge in California has twice rejected plaintiffs' claims related to Cymbalta marketing, according to the Reuters story

But in June, U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson rejected Lilly's attempts to throw out lawsuits over Cymbalta, ruling that patients raised important questions about the company's portrayal of withdrawal side effects. Lilly designed Cymbalta trials to "under-report the risk of discontinuation symptoms" according to Wilson's ruling, and the lawsuits point to a troubling disparity in study data. The drug's official warnings cite symptoms in about 2% of individuals taking the med, but some studies found withdrawal side effects in 40% of patients.

- read the Reuters story

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