Lilly hid Zyprexa’s diabetes risks, family’s lawyer argues

Eli Lilly and Co. hid the diabetes risks of its Zyprexa antipsychotic medication to protect sales, a lawyer for the family of a patient who died while taking the medicine told a jury in the first case to go to trial over the drug.

Cody Tadai, a 20-year-old college student, took Zyprexa to battle mental illness without either him, or his doctor, being properly warned about the drug’s link to diabetes, Ronald Makarem, a Los Angeles-based lawyer, said in closing arguments in the trial of a lawsuit filed by members of Tadai’s family. They contend the student died of diabetes-related ailments in March 2007 and that the drugmaker put profits ahead of the safety of Zyprexa users.

“They chose money over safety,” Makarem told jurors in state court in Los Angeles Wednesday. A verdict on behalf of Tadai’s family would remind Lilly executives to ensure “safety comes first and money second,” he added.

Indianapolis-based Lilly, which lost patent protection on Zyprexa last month, has paid out about $2.9 billion to resolve government and individual claims over its marketing of the antipsychotic drug.

Lilly agreed in 2009 to pay $1.42 billion to settle federal prosecutors’ allegations that it illegally marketed Zyprexa for unapproved uses. The drugmaker also agreed to pay more than $260 million to resolve similar state claims. The company also has agreed to pay more than $1.2 billion to settle about 31,000 suits by former users of the drug.

Stefanie Prodouz, a Lilly spokeswoman, declined to comment Tuesday on why the drugmaker decided to let the Tadai family’s Zyprexa suit be the first to go to trial after more than eight years of litigation over the medication. The drug was Lilly’s top seller last year, racking up more than $5 billion in sales.

The drugmaker still faces about 40 Zyprexa suits that include claims from about 110 former users of the drug, Lilly executives said in an Oct. 28 U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

Tadai’s family contends Lilly officials withheld information about the side effects of Zyprexa, such as diabetes and weight gain, and encouraged sales of the drug for unapproved, or off-label, purposes.

They also contend Lilly trained its sales force to “neutralize” any questions or concerns about Zyprexa’s links to weight gain or diabetes in users and to tout its superiority to competing drugs that required blood monitoring.

Seven months after Tadai’s death, FDA officials ordered Lilly to strengthen Zyprexa’s diabetes warning, Makarem noted.

The psychiatrist who prescribed Zyprexa in 2003 to control Tadai’s aggression wouldn’t have agreed to the off-label use of the drug if he’d known it could lead Tadai to develop diabetes, Makarem added.

The psychiatrist wouldn’t have prescribed Zyprexa or he would have immediately taken “Cody off the drug,” the family’s lawyer told jurors.

Makarem asked jurors to award the family a total of $40 million in compensatory damages over the loss of the college student to diabetes-related illnesses.

Lilly’s lawyers countered that Tadai’s family had a history of diabetes and said Zyprexa played no role in his development of the disease. They also argued the company adequately warned doctors and patients about Zyprexa’s diabetes risk in 2003, the year the student began taking the medication.

Tadai battled with weight problems throughout his life and his parents and his doctors should have done a better job of monitoring his diabetes risks, Andrew Rogoff, one of Lilly’s lawyers, told the jury Wednesday in his closing statement.

“Lilly fulfilled its responsibilities,” Rogoff said. “Everyone else in this world has responsibilities, too.”

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