New-York-based pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE) saw a steep hike in the number of lawsuits filed against it by American women claiming that the company knew about the side-effects of its blockbuster cholesterol drug Lipitor but did not issue an official warning.
The number of federal court filings against the company has reportedly increased from 56 to 1,000 in the last five months, where plaintiffs claim that the use of Lipitor for lowering cholesterol levels, gave them type-2 diabetes. The recent spike in lawsuits against the company follows an order from a federal judicial panel to bring all the cases filed across the U.S. against Pfizer into a single courtroom. Pfizer, which plans to contest the claims, has reportedly declined to follow the order claiming it will trigger copycat lawsuits.
"We will ask a jury to decide what it's worth to take five years of someone's life," H. Blair Hahn, of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, and the plaintiffs' lead lawyer said, according to Reuters. Hahn also said that the 1,000 cases filed so far represent nearly 4,000 women, and estimated that the number of cases could rise ten-fold to 10,000.
Lipitor belongs to a class of drugs called statins, which work in the liver to reduce the production of cholesterol, while diabetes takes away the body's ability to produce insulin, which helps convert food to energy.
In 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, reportedly issued a warning that the use of statin drugs like Lipitor could increase the risk of diabetes and memory loss. In January, the FDA warning was updated to provide a detailed list of side effects, including muscle damage and liver injury in extreme cases.
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“Clearly we think that the heart benefit of statins outweighs this small increased risk,” Amy G. Egan, deputy director for safety in FDA’s Division of Metabolism and Endocrinology Products, said in the FDA statement, adding that the patients might have to be tested for their blood-sugar levels regularly, after they begin treatment with statins.
A recent report by the World Health Organization stated that heart disease was the leading cause of deaths in 2011 and 2012 while one out of three children have high cholesterol.