Roche Denies Settling Raptiva Claims; First Trial Set for June

Roche Holdings AG denied settling lawsuits that say its Raptiva psoriasis drug caused lethal infections and said it’s proceeding to the first trial of the claims in June.

Mark Lanier, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, earlier said Roche’s Genentech unit had settled. He later called that statement “in error and wishful thinking.”

Genentech was sued in state court in California over allegations that Raptiva caused Stephen Johnson’s death. The 46-year-old Louisiana businessman took the drug to treat a skin condition. The Johnson family is seeking $15 million in compensatory damages along with “several hundred million dollars” in punitive damages, according to plaintiffs’ lawyers.

“Genentech has not settled the Stephen Johnson lawsuit,” Nadine Pinell, a spokeswoman for the South San Francisco, California-based company, said today in an e-mailed statement. “The trial in this matter is set to begin on June 4, 2012.”

Genentech began taking Raptiva off the U.S. and European markets in April 2009 after three psoriasis patients were diagnosed with progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy, or PML, a rare, incurable brain infection. The month before the withdrawal, Basel, Switzerland-based Roche completed a $46.8 billion buyout of the biotech company.

Skin Lesions

Psoriasis is a disease that leaves sufferers with red, itchy skin lesions, lawyers for Johnson’s family said in court filings. Johnson had taken the drug for almost five years before his death in January 2009, according to the filings.

Genentech officials estimated in 2009 that about 2,000 U.S. patients were taking the drug when the company began pulling it from shelves. The medication, which generated $108 million in sales in 2008, had been used by an estimated 46,000 patients worldwide. The psoriasis treatment was approved for sale by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2003.

“I was premature and the case is now on the docket for June,” Lanier said. “They have indicated we are going to trial.”

The case is Johnson v. Genentech Inc., RG 10-494957, California Superior Court, Alameda County (Oakland).

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