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Lilly facing first trials over Cymbalta withdrawal symptoms

June 24, 2015

Eli Lilly and Co. has been ordered to face claims it misled consumers about “brain zaps” and other withdrawal side effects tied to its antidepressant Cymbalta in the first cases slated to be heard by juries.

Lilly’s bid to have former Cymbalta users’ lawsuits thrown out was rebuffed by a federal judge in California, who found they raised legitimate questions about the drugmaker’s warnings about withdrawal risks.

Jurors must decide whether Lilly officials designed Cymbalta studies to “under-report the risk of discontinuation symptoms,” U.S. District Judge Steven Wilson in Los Angeles ruled June 19. He set the first two trials in his court for August.

The ruling came the same month Indianapolis-based Lilly saw its shares rise more than any other company in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, after it denied planning to spin off its animal health unit.

Lilly is seeking to rebound from what it has called a low point in sales in 2014, after losing exclusive rights to blockbuster medicines such as Zyprexa and Cymbalta, which was the company’s best-selling drug.

Cymbalta sales fell to $1.6 billion in 2014, down from $5 billion in 2013.

The drugmaker faces more than 5,000 cases claiming it downplayed Cymbalta’s withdrawal side effects, which allegedly include electrical-shock sensations described in court filings as “brain zaps.” Other withdrawal effects are said to include nausea, vomiting and insomnia.

“We believe in our defenses to these claims and we will continue to defend Lilly vigorously,” Scott MacGregor, a Lilly spokesman, said Wednesday.

The cases haven’t been consolidated before a single federal judge, said Brent Wisner, a Los Angeles-based attorney representing ex-Cymbalta users. He said some cases filed in California’s state courts have been combined, a step that eases pre-trial information exchanges.

The patients contend Lilly executives downplayed the withdrawal risks on the drug’s warning label, saying only about 2 percent of users experienced side effects when coming off the medication, according to court filings.

Studies have found more than 40 percent of Cymbalta patients suffered withdrawal after quitting the medicine, the consumers said in court filings.

Lilly disclosed on warning labels in Europe that 45 percent of users reported experiencing some withdrawal symptoms after they stopped taking the drug, the patients said in court filings.

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