Recently, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and newspapers across the country reported on internal AstraZeneca documents made public for the first time. The internal documents and e-mails written by company officials, which were uncovered in a federal court lawsuit, reveal that AstraZeneca knew a decade ago that its psychiatric drug Seroquel caused diabetes and major weight gain. The documents also show that, in spite of that knowledge, the company continued to market the drug as having no risk.
AstraZeneca produced an analysis of studies showing that its antipsychotic drug Seroquel was less effective than older-generation psychiatric drugs it was supposed to improve upon. As we have reported in previous issues, over the past dozen years AstraZeneca has marketed Seroquel as an effective treatment for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. AstraZeneca’a efforts resulted in the company selling more than $20 billion of the drug. In 2008 alone, Seroquel sales totaled $4.45 billion. The AstraZeneca documents prove without a doubt that the company put its profit over the safety of persons taking Seroquel. That is an indictment of the company’s bosses who allowed this to happen.
Currently there are more than 9,000 lawsuits, filed by individuals, pending against AstraZeneca. These suits allege that the individuals developed diabetes after taking Seroquel. Many of the cases have been consolidated in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida. The key issue in all of the lawsuits is whether the company knew that some patients could develop diabetes from Seroquel and yet failed to disclose that to the medical community and to the public.
The documents – which include internal emails involving key officers and employees – show how AstraZeneca tried to hide the diabetes link for nearly a decade. Clearly, the company knew about the risk of weight gain and the diabetes risk in 2000. Not only did AstraZeneca fail to warn doctors and patients, but it instead marketed the drug in a way that represented that there was no risk. I must confess that, after having been involved in litigation against the drug industry for a number of years, I’m not at all surprised at the content of these documents.
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