A new European study finds that pregnant women who took epilepsy drug valproate — sold in the US as Depakote — were four times more likely to give birth to a baby with birth defects.
The report, jointly issued by the French National Agency for the Safety of Medicines (ANSM) and the national health insurance administration, confirmed that the drug is “highly teratogenic”, meaning that it can disturb the development of an embryo.
A total of 129 lawsuits, involving about 698 plaintiffs, have been filed against Abbott Laboratories in In Re Depakote, Case No. 12-CV-52-NJR-SCW, in the Southern District of Illinois before US District Judge Nancy J. Rosenstengel.
- Plaintiffs recovered $38 million in punitive and compensatory damages against Abbot in May 2015. Attorneys from Williams Kherkher argued that Abbott underplayed the risk of birth defects, making it appear that Depakote had about the same level as other anti-epileptic drugs available. As attorneys John Eddie and John Boundas were able to argue, in reality it was the most dangerous anti-epileptic drug.
- Last November there was a £10.7m ($13.8 million) settlement in France for people harmed by sodium valproate during pregnancy.
On the market since 1967
Valproate — known in France under the brand name Depakine — has been on sale there since 1967, and in Britain under the name Epilim since 1973. In the US, Depakote was approved by the FDA in June 1996 to treat epilepsy.
Valproate products are FDA-approved drugs to treat seizures, and manic or mixed episodes associated with bipolar disorder (manic-depressive disorder), and to prevent migraine headaches. They are also used off-label (for unapproved uses) for other conditions, particularly for other psychiatric conditions.
The FDA warned doctors in December, 2009, that fetal exposure to valproate sodium (Depacon, Abbott), valproic acid (Depakene, Stavzor, Abbott), and divalproex sodium (Depakote, Depakote CP, Depakote ER, Abbott) is associated with birth defects, according to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The FDA said the drug can cause birth defects including neural tube, craniofacial, and cardiovascular defects, and warned doctors to “inform women of childbearing potential about these risks, and consider alternative therapies, especially if using valproate to treat migraines or other conditions not usually considered life-threatening.”
The first cases were filed in state court in 2010 and removed to federal court on January 18, 2012. Judge Rosenstengel said, “the bellwether process and global settlement efforts have failed,” after several trial dates fell through. As a result, “The Court intends to hold joint trials as to common issues of fact and law to the maximum extent possible.”
The judge intends to try the majority of the cases in joint trials by the end of 2017.
Judge Rosenstengel dismissed nine cases on April 12 under the Indiana repose issue, ruling that all the acts leading to the alleged birth defects in the nine cases took place in Indiana, and that Indiana’s 10-year statute of repose therefore applied. An Illinois statute favored by the plaintiffs would have allowed the claims to go forward.
Abbott agreed to pay $1.5 billion to settle civil claims and criminal charges from the FDA that the drugmaker misbranded Depakote and Depakote ER between 1998 and 2006. Abbott also received repeated notices from the FDA between 1982 and 2009 that the company was misbranding the drug or promoting it for unapproved uses, the plaintiffs said.
The plaintiffs are represented by Christopher Cueto and Michael Gras of the Law Office of Christopher Cueto Ltd., Janet G. Abaray of Burg Simpson Eldredge Hersh & Jardine PC, John T. Boundas of Williams Kherkher Hart Boundas, and Bruce L. Sampson Jr. of Bracewell LLP.