Abbott Sued Over Claims Humira Caused Lymphoma

(March 6, 2012)

When Gayathri Murthy’s physician asked her if she would participate in a clinical trial for a rheumatoid arthritis drug, called Humira, she agreed. What she didn’t know, was that her physician was a “principal investigator” for the study and was compensated by Abbott for his involvement in the study.

Murthy, a Houston hospital worker, began taking Humira in early 2005 to treat her rheumatoid arthritis. Although her doctor informed her that the drug had an increased risk of tuberculosis, he said that the other side effects were similar to the “side effects of aspirin.”  She signed a “consent to participate” document, which mentioned that cancers, as well as lymphoma, were occasionally seen in patients taking these types of drugs.  Her doctor showed her a video, produced by Abbott.  As part of the study, she received Humira for two months, and remained on the drug until she was diagnosed with lymphoma in February 2006, according to the complaint.

Humira is in a class of drugs known as tumor necrosis factor-blockers, which prevents the body’s cancer-killing cells from working.

It seems that Murthy’s doctor took advantage of her trust and lack of knowledge regarding this drug. Both her physician and the manufacturer, Abbott Laboratories, used aggressive marketing and failed to provide adequate warnings of the dangers associated with Humira.  Abbott had data in its’ possession by January 2005 with which to alert people to the three-to-fivefold potential risk of cancer for patients taking Humira, and did nothing to warn patients, directly, about the risks of Humira-induced cancers until federal regulators made it a requirement in 2009. That is more than four years of concealing vital warnings to potential Humira patients.

Although it was quickly mentioned in the video Murthy viewed, there is a possibility of lymphoma, her physician did not sit her down and warn her of the risks of Humira or take the time to give her unbiased facts. It is unethical for a physician to be compensated by a drug company, as well as to engage in marketing tactics.  The fact that her doctor was a “paid clinical investigator for Abbott” was not disclosed in the informed-consent form Murthy signed upon entering the Humira trial, according to the complaint.  A physician is supposed to exercise independent judgment without having an incentive to choose one drug over another.

Murthy sued Abbott for breach of contract (in how it conducted the 2005 Humira clinical trial), product liability, negligence, and alleging their failure to adequately warn of the risk of lymphoma. She also alleged that the video painted a “rosy picture” of Humira, with little or no warning of cancer risk.  She requested unspecified punitive damages.   Murthy also asked that Abbott be required to pay for lifetime medical monitoring and complete medical care, should her cancer, which is presently in remission following chemotherapy, recur.

Patients put their trust in their doctors and respect their opinions and advice when it comes to their treatment. It is immoral and unethical for a physician to “push” a particular drug on their patient, for their own greed and profit. The moment the physician breached his doctor-patient trust, he provided the patient with sufficient grounds to view any and all of the study related matters as compromised.

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