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Japanese company wins Las Vegas lawsuit over diabetes drug Actos

A Japanese pharmaceutical company prevailed Thursday in a Las Vegas case involving two women who claimed the diabetes drug Actos caused them to develop bladder cancer.

Lawyers for the two women, Las Vegas resident Bertha Triana and Henderson resident Delores Cipriano, had asked the jury to award their clients $60 million in compensatory damages. The lawyers also had planned to seek billions of dollars in punitive damages.

“It was obviously disappointing — particularly disappointing for the clients, because that is why we do this,” said Cipriano’s attorney, Robert Eglet.

Triana and Cipriano sat in the courtroom as the verdict was announced shortly after noon. Both women declined to comment afterward.

The ruling against Cipriano was a stunning defeat for Eglet, who holds the three largest personal injury verdicts in Nevada history.

“The last time I lost a case was 2003,” he said. “It’s been 11 years.”

Attorneys D’Lesli Davis and Kelly Evans, who represented Takeda Pharmaceuticals during the three-month trial, hustled out of the courtroom after learning the jury’s decision.

“We agree with the verdict, and we appreciate the jury’s time and their efforts,” Davis said as she walked away.

Jurors, who began deliberating late Tuesday afternoon, declined to comment on their decision.

The case stemmed from separate lawsuits filed by Triana and Cipriano, who were diagnosed with bladder cancer after taking the prescription drug pioglitazone. Takeda makes the medication under the trade name Actos.

Thousands of plaintiffs across the country have filed product liability lawsuits against Takeda. The company is accused of failing to inform consumers and medical professionals about the risk of bladder cancer associated with the use of Actos, which went on sale in the United States in 1999.

“We’re going to continue to vigorously defend the company against these lawsuits and fight for the patients who need this medicine,” said Kenneth Greisman, senior vice president and general counsel for Takeda Pharmaceuticals USA Inc.

In June 2011, the Food and Drug Administration issued a safety announcement stating that use of Actos for more than one year may be associated with an increased risk of bladder cancer.

Triana, 80, was diagnosed with bladder cancer in May 2012. Cipriano, 81, was diagnosed with bladder cancer in July 2012.

District Judge Kerry Earley presided over the Las Vegas trial, which began with jury selection on Feb. 10.

Eglet said the plaintiffs plan to file an appeal. They may be entitled to a new trial based on the misconduct of Takeda’s lawyers, he said.

Earley ruled that Takeda’s lawyers had violated court orders and repeatedly engaged in disrespectful behavior during the trial.

Eglet said he also plans to proceed with an October trial involving two other clients who sued Takeda.

“We’re not backing off,” he told reporters. “We’re going to go try that case, too.”

In April, a Louisiana jury ordered Takeda to pay $6 billion in punitive damages in a case involving Actos, but the drug maker is challenging the outcome of that trial.

“We have empathy for the plaintiffs, but we’re pleased that we prevailed in five out of the first six Actos trials,” Greisman said Thursday in a telephone interview from Illinois.

Judges in both the Louisiana and Las Vegas cases told jurors that Takeda had destroyed documents related to the case and that they could assume those documents would have benefited the plaintiffs.

“I just thought the destruction of the evidence, which was so important in Louisiana, would also be important here,” said Carl Tobias, a former professor at UNLV’s Boyd Law School.

Tobias said he expects Takeda to take more Actos cases to trial.

“After winning most of these, they’re likely to continue to litigate them,” he said.

Adam Levine, a Florida doctor and lawyer, said he understands why jurors in Las Vegas had difficulty accepting the plaintiffs’ position.

“The question is: Would they have developed the bladder cancer anyway without Actos?” he said.

Levine said he does not think any of the scientific studies “are really that clear.”

He also said the inconsistent outcomes in the various Actos cases highlight the failure of our court system.

“Justice really hasn’t been served for anybody, because the verdict is still out about whether Actos causes cancer,” Levine said.

Actos is used to improve blood-sugar control in adults with Type 2 diabetes.

“We believe the best available science … shows that there’s no association between Actos and bladder cancer,” Greisman said.

Takeda Pharmaceuticals USA is based in Deerfield, Ill., and is a wholly owned subsidiary of Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd., Japan’s largest pharmaceutical company.

Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at cgeer@reviewjournal.com. Find her on Twitter: @CarriGeer.

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