Just business? Tell that to victims

It was just a business decision. That’s the cool, professional tone of the April announcement by Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. that it had agreed to settle the vast majority of the product liability lawsuits against its diabetes drug Actos.

Yes, thousands of Americans have sued the Japanese company after being diagnosed with bladder cancer after using the diabetes drug. Yes, the company failed to inform patients and medical professionals about the danger of bladder cancer associated with the extended use of the drug. Yes, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2011 took the step of issuing a safety announcement about Actos over the bladder cancer issue. And, yes, the computer hard drives of eight Takeda executives were destroyed as the Actos litigation spread across the country.

The company’s April settlement announcement left out such pesky facts. Instead, it focused on the business of Actos, which is big business indeed. In its media missive, Takeda announced it was taking a $2.7 billion charge against its fourth-quarter earnings in 2014 to facilitate the settlement.

In other words, it had agreed to cut a fat check to put a series of unfortunate events behind it — without making a hint of a medical mea culpa.

In Las Vegas, bladder cancer sufferer George Decou and Mary Iorio, widow of the late Maurice Iorio, who also was diagnosed with bladder cancer, have been battling the pharmaceutical giant. Decou is 77. Mary Iorio is 78. Maurice Iorio, a retired police officer and former bailiff at the Regional Justice Center, died on Nov. 25, 2013, at 74.

As I listened to the careful and uneventful cross examination of Mary Iorio on Monday afternoon in District Judge Jerry Wiese II’s courtroom, I was reminded of how much she sounded like most people who have experienced major medical maladies. People try to listen and follow directions, but they’re just people. They rely on the folks in the white coats and the hospital and pharmaceutical companies that annually reap untold billions from the American public’s health system.

No, Mary didn’t remember Maurice doing independent medical research on the drugs prescribed to him by a licensed physician.

“I believe he would have relied on the doctor’s advice,” Mary said.

For her part, she followed the doctor’s orders by maintaining careful notes of her husband’s daily blood sugar count.

“I kept a record every single day,” she said.

After a while, I returned to that businesslike April news release. It wasn’t egregious, as far as such things go. It was practically a boilerplate of the kinds of statements businesses make when they’re trying to buy their way out of a headache caused by human suffering associated with their product.

Originally from Chicago, Mary and Maurice Iorio were high school sweethearts who were married 53 years. The elderly woman managed to hold up on the witness stand Monday, and at the end of her testimony received a warm embrace from plaintiff’s attorney Robert Eglet, whose law firm has gained a reputation as a giant slayer in product liability and medical malpractice cases.

She had endured the pressure of testifying under oath, had shown her devotion as a wife and widow. Her job was done.

The trial continues with literally billions of dollars hanging in the balance.

And now for a word from Takeda Pharmaceutical:

“Takeda believes that the claims made in this litigation are without merit, and does not admit liability. Takeda believes the company acted responsibly with regard to Actos, and that Actos has a positive benefit/risk profile for the treatment of type 2 diabetes. Takeda’s decision to settle does not change the company’s continued commitment to Actos.

“… The settlement will reduce financial uncertainties for the company and provides a significant degree of assurance toward resolving a high percentage of the Actos product liability claims. The settlement allows the company to fully focus on developing innovative medicines for patients around the world.”

It’s just business, Mary and Maurice. It’s just business, George. Try to understand that.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. He can be reached at 702-383-0295 or jsmith@reviewjournal.com. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.

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