“US District Court of Illinois Enacts A Real Rocket Docket In AndroGel MDL”
By Mark A. York (April 26, 2018)
(MASS TORT NEXUS MEDIA) Judge Matthew F. Kennelly, the Illinois federal judge overseeing AndroGel MDL 2545 also known as the Testosterone Replacement Therapy Multidistrict Litigation, has decided to go along with the 11 fellow district court judges who volunteered to try 20 bellwether trials involving AbbVie Inc.’s AndroGel between Oct. 2, 2018 and March 2019, see AndroGel MDL 2545 CMO No. 114 Re: Setting 20 Trials In Front of 12 Federal Judges, in the Testosterone Replacement Therapy Products Liability Litigation, MDL Docket No. 2545, No. 14-1748, N.D. Ilinois.
Judge Kennelly ordered the cases to be trial-ready by September 2018 and a second group by December. He also told counsel that other judges in the district volunteered to assist him by trying cases throughout the fall and winter of 2018 and into the spring of 2019, with both sides agreeing to have the cases tried before different judges. The judge said he will rule on all pretrial matters in the 20 cases, including summary judgments and in-limine motions, jury instructions and Daubert expert witness rulings, with each judge being given a trial-ready package of his rulings.
The judges who have agreed to hear trials in support of Judge Kennelly will be Chief Judge Ruben Castillo and Judges Virginia Kendall, Manish Shah, Rebecca Pallmeyer, Sara Ellis, John Lee, John Blakey, Robert Dow, Edmond Chang, Gary Feinerman and Jay Tharp.
Judge Kennelly said further trial dates after March 4 may be set by a future order.
AbbVie is facing more than 3,770 MDL Cases, see Mass Tort Nexus Briefcase Re: ANDROGEL-TESTOSTERONE-MDL-2545, which to date have resulted in plaintiffs bellwether trial verdicts in amounts ranging from $3 million up to $140 million with a single defense win. One main defendant, Eli Lilly chose to settle all their cases related the Axiron product line, see Eli-Lilly-Announces-Settlement-Of-All-Testosterone-Cases-in-MDL-2545. The Lilly action may have been a smart legal move, as the stacked up trials would be not only financially burdensome but would put major pressure on defense trial teams.
AbbVie declared 3,770 AndroGel claims in the MDL in its Nov. 11, 2017 10-Q report, and about 205 claims in various state courts, including more than 200 additional testosterone drug cases await judgment in Cook County Circuit Court, many involving Illinois plaintiffs. In one trial in the Cook County court, involving a 66-year-old man who suffered a heart attack while taking AndroGel, resulted in a verdict in favor of AbbVie, but the man’s attorneys are seeking a new trial that will allow them to present evidence on the internal decision-making behind the company’s sales tactics. That evidence was not permitted in the initial trial.
PLAINTIFFS ARE AHEAD IN TRIAL VERDICTS
The first federal AndroGel case to go to trial in 2017 resulted in just a punitive damages award of $150 million, which was later vacated and a new trial ordered. The retrial resulted in a $3.2 million verdict with compensatory and punitive damages. The second bellwether trial resulted in a $140.1 million verdict in 2017, with the third bellwether trial resulting in a verdict for the defense.
In the fall of 2017 Konrad bellwether trial, resulting in the punitive damage verdict of $150 million, which was the first case in the series of bellwether trials aimed at helping plaintiffs and manufacturers of AndroGel gauge the range of damages and define a legal strategy and settlement options, even though the large verdict was vacated, it sent a clear message to the parties.
With defense losing both of the initial bellwether trials doesn’t look good for the defense, see “ANDROGEL” JURY RETURNS $150 MILLION VERDICT IN 1st TESTOSTERONE TRIAL. That jury’s decision to award punitive damages without granting compensatory damages was unusual and both sides continue to fight over the verdict’s validity in court, but shows that the plaintiffs seem to have viable claims at trial.
Plaintiffs across the country allege AndroGel has caused heart attacks, strokes and other injuries, and the company was aware of the increase in adverse events while marketing “off-label” use. AbbVie has defended the drug and responded that its marketing of AndroGel adhered strictly to uses approved by the Food and Drug Administration and they have remained in full compliance with all FDA standards.
Konrad, 56, had been using AndroGel for two months in 2010 when he suffered a heart attack, from which he has since recovered. In court pleadings, the company contended that Konrad’s heart attack was caused by other factors, which are are not related to being prescribed AndroGel, such as obesity and high blood pressure. It also said it made no misrepresentations about AndroGel’s safety, which now two juries have disagreed with to the tune of $290 million.
ANDROGEL WAS A BLOCKBUSTER FROM FIRST RELEASE
AbbVie’s AndroGel is one of the more dominant testosterone treatments In the ever growing Low-T market, with sales of $675 million in 2016, and was declared a blockbuster drug and moved earnings and shares higher as soon as AndroGel hit the market. However, there were concerns about the drug safety as far back as 2012 and the FDA took notice not long thereafter. In 2014, the FDA convened an advisory committee to consider the adverse cardiovascular outcomes associated with testosterone replacement therapy, and the committee recommended changing the product warning labels, the FDA then required AbbVie to add a warning about cardiovascular risk to AndroGel’s label in May 2015.
HEART ATTACK AND STROKE RISK
Testosterone replacement drugs are approved to treat certain low-testosterone conditions in men. Plaintiffs allege that manufacturers invented a condition called “low-t” and marketed it for the treatment of the normal aging process and to restore strength and virility. Instead, the plaintiffs say testosterone drugs cause heart attacks and strokes.
AbbVie and predecessor Abbott Laboratories Inc. make AndroGel, a topical gel, AbbVie has owned AndroGel for only part of the drug’s history. Abbott Laboratories acquired AndroGel in 2010, and AbbVie was spun off from the company three years later.
Other defendants included Eli Lilly and Co. which makes Axiron, also a topical gel, and as previously mentioned has chosen to settle all claims in the litigation.. Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc. makes Aveed and Delatestryl, both injection drugs, and Fortesta, a topical gel. Actavis plc makes AndroDerm, an adhesive skin patch. Auxilium Pharmaceuticals Inc. makes Testim, a gel. Pfizer Inc. and Pharmacia Inc. make Depo-Testosterone, an injection drug.
FDA ISSUED A WARNING
As listed in the Chicago Tribune article of March 4, 2015, see Testosterone drugs overused per FDA warning. Testosterone injections were first approved in the 1950s for men who had been diagnosed with hypogonadism, a form of abnormally low testosterone caused by disorders of the testicles, brain and other hormone-related organs. The But current labeling on the drugs is vague enough that companies have been able to promote them to millions of otherwise healthy men who simply have lower-than-normal levels of testosterone.
The FDA began reviewing the safety of testosterone drugs in January 2014 after two federal studies associated them with increased rates of heart attack, stroke and other serious problems. But other studies associated testosterone replacement with longevity.”The benefits and safety of this use have not been established,” the FDA said in a statement released in March 2015.
While men’s testosterone levels naturally decline after age 40, experts disagree on whether that drop actually leads to the issues like decreased energy and lower bone density. Additionally, testosterone levels change by the hour and are affected by a range of environmental factors, such as stress and sexual arousal.
How this unusual judicial move goes over at the trialsl remains to be seen, but there is a distinct message being sent by the courts, that failure to engage in serious settlement talks will result in cases being set for trial. Perhaps other courts across the country should try accelerating MDL case dockets to trial via such unexpected rulings, thereby resulting in more years long case dockets being cleaned up. Who this may benefit remains to be seen, as there will be 20 trial verdicts coming sooner as opposed to later , to answer questions such as this.