Bloomberg News
February 4, 2010

AstraZeneca PLC is facing as many as 26,000 lawsuits over its antipsychotic drug Seroquel as the drug maker prepares for its first jury trial over claims the medicine causes diabetes, according to court filings.

Attorneys for AstraZeneca, which has its U.S. headquarters in Fairfax, met with plaintiffs’ lawyers in court-ordered mediation sessions last month to discuss a possible settlement, according to court filings. Consumers’ lawyers said they had about 26,000 cases in their inventories, Stephen Saltzburg, a George Washington University Law School professor who served as mediator, said.

“I wish there were a magic wand that could be waved to settle all Seroquel cases instantly,” Saltzburg said in the filing. “Such a wand does not exist.”

In a Securities and Exchange Commission filing last week, AstraZeneca executives noted the company has paid about $656 million to defend itself in Seroquel cases. That’s an increase of 28 percent, or $144 million, over last year’s Seroquel defense costs, according to regulatory filings. The company said it had insurance of $521 million to cover Seroquel defense costs as of December.

The company said in the SEC filing it faces more than 25,000 claims that Seroquel caused diabetes. That’s a 65 percent increase in cases over the number the company reported in a January 2009 regulatory filing. Many of the suits also claim AstraZeneca promoted Seroquel, approved for schizophrenic and bipolar patients, for unapproved uses.

Saltzburg said the two-day talks didn’t generate a resolution, but he expects negotiations will take place at some point between the company and individual users’ lawyers.

“The question is what is fair for plaintiffs and what is fair for AZ,” the professor said in the report. “The parties are far apart at the moment on resolving that question.”

AstraZeneca’s stock fell last week after the drug maker’s sales forecast and stock-buyback plan disappointed some analysts and fourth-quarter profit missed estimates. The company plans to buy back as much as $1 billion of shares this year, managers said Jan. 28.

A New Jersey judge has set a Feb. 16 trial date for the first of thousands of Seroquel cases filed in that state to go before a jury. Seroquel, which generated sales of $4.9 billion last year, is AstraZeneca’s second-biggest seller after the ulcer treatment Nexium.

“The evidence, looked at fairly and fully, does not back up the allegations that Seroquel was responsible for the plaintiffs’ alleged injuries,” AstraZeneca spokesman Tony Jewell said in an e-mail.

In November, a judge in Florida who is overseeing all federal-court litigation over Seroquel ordered the company to meet with plaintiffs’ lawyers and Saltzburg to discuss settlement.
U.S. District Judge Anne Conway in Florida, who is overseeing pre-trial proceedings in federal Seroquel litigation, said in November that she would ask a panel of judges to return the 6,000 cases consolidated before her to their home courts for trial.