Taxotere® — a chemotherapy drug often prescribed in the fight against breast cancer — is one of the latest disheartening examples of corporate greed when it comes to the integrity of the pharmaceutical industry. Since the number of lawsuits from women alleging permanent hair loss is on the rise, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) will decide soon whether or not to consolidate these cases into multidistrict litigation (MDL).
Consolidation, if granted by the JPML, would mean that pretrial proceedings, such as depositions and potential settlement conferences, would be centralized and heard before a single judge. In an MDL, rulings on pretrial matters will apply to all of the different suits. Generally, consistent legal rulings during the pretrial stage saves both parties time and resources before cases move on to trial.
How The Makers of Taxotere Misled the Public
The story of Taxotere is an old-fashioned tale of greed. Taxotere belongs to a class of drugs known as Taxanes. The first Taxane on the market for cancer treatment was Taxol® (paclitaxel), developed by Bristol-Myers Squibb. In an effort to win some of the lucrative Taxane market share, Sanofi-Aventis developed Taxotere, and marketed it as more potent and effective than Taxol.
In reality, a 2008 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found no significant differences in survival between the patients treated with paclitaxel (Taxol) and those treated with docetaxel (Taxotere). Even scarier? Sanofi’s own internal studies indicate nearly a 10 percent chance that Taxotere users would experience permanent baldness – a side effect that is not associated with Taxol.
Because Sanofi-Aventis misrepresented the effectiveness of the drug and allegedly concealed the risk of permanent hair loss, many doctors prescribed Taxotere to their patients for years – without knowing that countless women would be permanently disfigured.
How many years? Well, in 2005, Sanofi-Aventis updated the drug’s warning label in Canada to include the devastating side effect of permanent baldness, and, in 2012, warnings were also updated in Europe. Meanwhile, the warning label in the United States remained vague, and many patients and their doctors assumed that hair loss associated with the drug would be temporary, as with other chemotherapy drugs.
Victims of Taxotere Join Forces
Thankfully, cancer organizations are bringing more attention to this issue. A Head of Our Time — a worldwide organization of Taxotere victims suffering from permanent hair loss — stresses the importance of emotional support, acceptance, education (for both patients and medical providers), medical research, and justice.
Visitors to the organization’s website will notice a wide range of emotions from women who write in. Some are angry, some are resentful, and most would have made a different decision regarding their treatment if they had they known about the risk of permanent hair loss associated with Taxotere.
What Happens When Drug Companies Choose Profit over Safety
If the risk of permanent hair loss had been on the U.S. warning label sooner, the comparable drug Taxol may have been considered for treatment instead. Patients have a right to know the potential side effects of a drug they are taking, so that they, along with informed medical professionals, can make their own decisions.
The level of deceit shown in court documents is downright despicable. Not only did Sanofi-Aventis conceal harmful side effects in order to make a profit, but they pushed a drug on the medical community that is arguably inferior to other treatment options.
When corporate greed intentionally injures the most vulnerable members of our society it’s no surprise that lawsuits begin piling up.