By David Voreacos
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Roche Holding lost the first of 400 lawsuits claiming its Accutane acne drug causes inflammatory bowel disease when a jury awarded an Alabama man $2.62 million.
Accutane was a cause of the disease in Andrew McCarrell, 36, the jury in Atlantic City found yesterday. The computer manager testified that he had severe diarrhea, surgeries and depression after taking Accutane in 1995 and becoming ill a year later. Roche failed to warn of the drug's risks, jurors said.
The verdict may complicate Roche's efforts to defend suits alleging that the drug causes inflammatory bowel disease. Roche lawyers said the disease's cause is unknown and drug-label warnings were adequate. McCarrell's attorney argued that the label was misleading and that Roche hid the risks to reap profit.
"We'd like to send a message to Roche to clearly do further testing and evaluations," juror Cynthia Spivey, 50, said after the verdict.
About 13 million people have taken Accutane since it was introduced in 1982. Roche lost patent protection on the drug in 2002 and continues to sell it, but with generic competition. Accutane has also been associated with birth defects and depression.
McCarrell, of St. Clair, Ala., said he was "ecstatic" with the verdict. "It means that I can go and get a lot better medical treatment," he said. "I won't have to worry about my financial future."
Accutane is made by Roche unit Hoffmann-La Roche Inc. of Nutley, N.J. Diane Lifton, an attorney for Roche, which is headquartered in Switzerland, said the company would appeal.
The panel of six women and four men awarded $2.5 million in damages to McCarrell and $119,000 for past medical expenses.
McCarrell's attorney, Michael Hook, said in closing arguments that his client had "gone to the bathroom 25,000 more times than the average person. I can't imagine that. He's doing the best he can with what he's got to live with, and what he's had to live with is hell for the last 10 years."
McCarrell testified that he had not slept through the night since becoming ill. "On a bad day, I really can't get out of bed," he told jurors on May 3, the trial's first day. "When I wake up, my body just doesn't work. I stay in bed or lay on the couch all day."
Andrew See, an attorney for Roche, had argued that scientists do not know what causes inflammatory bowel disease, which includes Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. The drug passes from the body within four to seven days, See said, noting that McCarrell's disease began a year after he first took the drug.