More and more breast cancer survivors are stepping forward to file lawsuits against Sanofi-Aventis, the maker of Taxotere®, a breast cancer chemotherapy drug that claimants say caused them to experience permanent hair loss – a side-effect that was not warned about in the drug’s marketing or labeling.
In the past month alone, the number of lawsuits involving the drug Taxotere and permanent baldness nearly tripled, skyrocketing from 267 cases before December 15th, 2016 to over 700 just a month later.
Taxotere, a drug manufactured and marketed by Sanofi-Aventis, is approved to treat several types of cancer, though is most commonly used by breast cancer patients. In fact, Taxotere is the most prescribed drug in its class.
Lawsuits Key in on One Major Fact
The majority of the recent lawsuits filed against Sanofi-Aventis involve women who failed to re-grow hair after their chemotherapy treatment with Taxotere had finished.
Many of these women were horrified to learn of their condition – permanent significant alopecia (PSA) – an incredibly traumatic side effect that wasn’t listed on the warning label as a potential end-result of Taxotere use.
The irreversible disfigurement caused by Taxotere is a hardship with many serious implications, from loss of work to mental anguish, depression, anxiety, and devastated self-esteem. Though a good number of these women beat breast cancer, with permanent hair loss they will have to live the rest of their lives being reminded every day of the torment that cancer can cause.
Taxotere® Lawsuits Piling Up
Last year, so many patients were stepping forward to present claims against Sanofi-Aventis that the lawsuits were consolidated into a multi-district litigation (MDL No. 2740) proceeding.
MDLs are used when many similar cases are being filed against the same defendant. MDLs promote efficiency and consistency in court rulings and help the judicial system save time.
When lawsuits against Taxotere were centralized in October 2016, the MDL contained only 33 cases. By December, the number had gone up by 200, and over the holiday season, this figure further ballooned with 438 new lawsuits being added by January 17, 2017.
Drug-Label Warnings in Europe and Canada, but Not the U.S.?
Fueling anger against Taxotere is the fact that the drug company did not warn its users that permanent hair loss was a potential side effect, despite knowing full-well that this was the case. In fact, Sanofi-Aventis even carried out its own clinical trials during the 90s which found that 9.2 percent of women using Taxotere for chemotherapy reported persistent hair loss during a 10-year follow-up period.
In 2006, Sanofi-Aventis conducted another study, this time concluding that 3 percent of women using Taxotere would experience permanent hair loss.
Though Taxotere’s labeling in both Europe and Canada began featuring warnings about the risk of PSA, Taxotere sold in the U.S. had no such warnings.
In fact, it wasn’t until December 2015 that Taxotere’s U.S. labels began mentioning the potential side-effect of permanently losing one’s hair. Even now, however, the warnings are woefully understated. The drug’s U.S. label currently reads: “In most cases, normal hair growth should return. In some cases (frequency not known) permanent hair loss has been observed.”
But now, with over 700 cases and counting, shouldn’t the onus be on the drug company to step up and admit their shortsightedness?
Big Pharma, Big Bucks, and a Lack of Choice
Now it’s easy to understand why Sanofi-Aventis might have been reluctant to note the risks of permanent hair-loss on their warning labels. Taxotere was raking in big money – global sales exceeded $3 Billion in 2009 alone. Mentioning undesirable side-effects would have surely chewed into their profits.
Still, breast cancer patients should’ve been given a choice.
Many patients suffering from breast cancer may have ultimately opted not to use Taxotere had they been aware of the possibility of permanent hair loss associated with the drug. It's also worth noting that there are similar medications that could have been considered that do not carry the risk of PSA. But this was a choice many hair-loss sufferers never had.
Fortunately, hundreds of these wronged breast-cancer survivors who are struggling with disfigurement are now seeking justice. The lawsuits continue to add up, sending a message to Sanofi-Aventis that they will have to pay big in order to compensate for the lives they’ve impaired.