Takeda Jury Says Company Not Liable for Cancer Death

Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. wasn’t responsible for the bladder-cancer death of an Illinois man who took its diabetes control drug Actos, an Illinois state court jury found.

The trial was the first for the more than 3,000 such lawsuits filed in Illinois, Tor Hoerman, a lawyer for the deceased man’s family, said in an interview yesterday. The verdict follows a federal trial in Louisiana in which a jury last month ordered Takeda and Eli Lilly & Co. to pay $9 billion in punitive damages after finding the companies hid Actos cancer risks. The companies have vowed an appeal.

The Osaka, Japan-based drug company and its American unit, Takeda Pharmaceuticals USA, have won three other cases that went to trial, according to a statement from Takeda USA issued after yesterday’s verdict. As many as 10,000 cases may be filed nationwide, New York attorney Paul Pennock has said. Another trial is under way in Las Vegas. Lawyers in that case have said they’re seeking more than $1 billion in damages for two women who blame their bladder cancer on Actos.

Actos sales peaked in the year ended March 2011 at $4.5 billion and accounted for 27 percent of Takeda’s revenue at the time, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Actos has generated more than $16 billion in sales since its 1999 release, according to court filings. Takeda now faces generic competition from Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd.

Cancer Risks

The panel of seven men and five women in Chicago deliberated for less than two hours before returning a verdict yesterday for the defense, ending a trial that lasted more than four weeks.

Diane Whitlatch, whose husband died in 2006, sued Takeda two years ago, claiming it failed to adequately warn of cancer risks associated with use of the drug first sold in 1999. William Whitlatch, 57, had been a machinist for the earth-moving vehicle maker Caterpillar Inc., based in Peoria, Illinois.

In his closing arguments for the Whitlatch estate, attorney Steven Maher yesterday said Takeda sold a product the company knew caused bladder cancer yet kept it on the market to maximize returns before the arrival of competing generic versions. The lawyer sought more than $10 million in damages.

“Actos didn’t have anything to do with Mr. Whitlatch’s bladder cancer,” defense lawyer Sherry A. Knutson, said in her summation, telling the jury that Whitlatch was a former smoker and a diabetic and that those factors increased his likelihood of developing cancer.

“We empathize with the Whitlatch family but agree with the verdict,” Takeda USA General Counsel Kenneth Greisman, said in the statement. “Takeda is confident in the therapeutic benefits of Actos and its importance as a treatment for type 2 diabetes.”

Maher, who told jurors at least eight studies supported his client’s claim, declined to comment after the verdict. Another co-counsel, Hunter Shkolnik, would say only, “That’s what appeals are for.”

The case is Whitlatch v. Takeda Pharmaceuticals America Inc., 2012-L-006087, Cook County, Illinois, Circuit Court, Law Division (Chicago).

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