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Pfizer CEO Must Testify in Chantix Trial, Lawyer Says

Pfizer Inc.’s top executive must testify in court about claims the company’s anti-smoking drug Chantix causes depression and other psychiatric disorders, a lawyer for an Alabama man suing over the medication said.

Attorneys for Billy Bedsole have subpoenaed Ian Read, Pfizer’s chief executive officer, and two other officials to testify live at the trial of Bedsole’s claims that the anti-smoking drug caused his breakdown and forced him to be institutionalized, said Ernest Cory, one of Bedsole’s lawyers. U.S. District Judge Inge Johnson has denied Pfizer’s request to throw out the subpoenas, Cory added.

The trial, which would be the first patient lawsuit over Chantix to be heard by a jury, is slated for Jan. 22, 2013, in federal court in Florence, Alabama, according to court records.

“I think the jury will look forward to having Mr. Read testify in Alabama and he should look forward to defending Chantix,” Cory said in an interview today.

Last month, New York-based Pfizer, the world’s biggest drugmaker, reached a confidential settlement with the widow of a Minnesota man who killed himself after taking Chantix. The case on behalf of the family of Mark Alan Whitely had been slated to begin Oct. 22 in Florence.

Chris Loder, Pfizer’s spokesman, declined to immediately comment on the subpoenas for the executives.

‘Erratic Behavior’

Read, along with Pfizer executives Diana Hughes and Carl Wilbanks, had been subpoenaed in the Whitely case before it settled. The same three executives have been called to testify in Bedsole’s case, Cory said.

Bedsole, an employee with a local power company, took Chantix in 2007 in hopes of being able to quit smoking, Cory said. Instead, the drug caused him to develop suicidal thoughts, “memory loss, depression, erratic behavior, mood swings, anxiety and hospitalization,” according to court filings.

Bedsole’s case and other lawsuits have been combined in a multidistrict litigation before Johnson in Alabama for pretrial evidence-gathering and the first trials.

The suits claim Chantix causes depression and other psychiatric disorders, some so severe that patients attempt or commit suicide. The plaintiffs allege that Pfizer knew of a link between Chantix and suicide and failed to sufficiently warn patients.

Pfizer has denied that Chantix was the cause of Bedsole’s ailments or that the company withheld information about the drug. The company provided warnings on the drug’s package insert of reports of suicidal thoughts since 2006, its lawyers have said in court filings.

The consolidated cases are In re Chantix (Varenicline) Products Liability Litigation MDL 2092, 09-cv-2039 U.S. District Court, Northern District of Alabama (Florence). Bedsole’s case is Billy G. Bedsole Jr. v. Pfizer Inc., 09-cv-2051 U.S. District Court, Northern District of Alabama (Florence).

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