Chantix Suicide Case settles

Pfizer Inc. (PFE) reached a confidential settlement last week with the widow of a Minnesota man who killed himself after taking Pfizer’s anti-smoking drug Chantix.

Mark Alan Whitely killed himself in Nov. 2007 after taking Chantix to quit smoking. His widow alleged that Pfizer failed to sufficiently warn that Chantix could increase suicide risk. The Whitley case was the first of more than 2,500 Chantix cases pending in federal court in Alabama.

Pfizer spokesman Chris Loder wrote in an email statement:  “We can confirm that we have settled this case.”

The settlement follows Pfizer’s appealing U.S. District Judge Inge Johnson’s order that its Chief Executive Officer Ian Read and two other executives testify in person at the Whitely trial. According to court records, Read and the other executives dropped that appeal after reaching the settlement.

The Whitely case and similar lawsuits have been corralled into multidistrict litigation before Judge Johnson in Alabama.

Suits claim Increased Suicide Risk

The lawsuits claim Chantix causes depression and other psychiatric disorders, some severe enough to cause suicide. Plaintiffs allege that Pfizer knew of a Chantix-suicide link, yet failed to sufficiently warn patients.

Pfizer has denied Chantix caused Whitely’s suicide or that the company withheld safety information about Chantix. Pfizer has provided package insert warnings of reports of suicidal thoughts since 2006, Johnson said in court papers in July. The notice was updated in 2007 and 2008, “culminating in a ‘black box warning’ being placed on the package insert in July 2009,” she said.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers contend that Pfizer should have provided such warnings earlier.

More Settlements?

Cory said he didn’t believe the Whitely settlement was a signal that Pfizer was pushing to settle the cases that have been consolidated before Johnson in federal court in Florence, Alabama.

The accord “was a one-off as far as I can tell,” Cory said. “I represent close to 400 families, and I haven’t gotten an offer to settle any of their claims so far.”

Cory said Johnson has set the next of four so-called bellwether trials over the Chantix claims for January in Alabama.

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).

Much of this story was taken from Bloomberg News.

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