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New Jersey Jury Awards $12.9 Million to Three Patients Whose Use of Roche Acne Medication Accutane Found to Cause Severe Bowel Illness
Date:11/20/2008

Three Florida residents took Accutane as teens, developed inflammatory bowel disease; Plaintiffs represented jointly by law firms Hook Bolton; Seeger Weiss; and Beggs & Lane

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J., Nov. 20 /PRNewswire/ -- In another major courtroom verdict linking powerful acne medication Accutane with long-term inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), an eight-person jury in Atlantic City has found that pharmaceutical maker Hoffman-LaRoche (OTCQX: RHHBY; VTX: ROG.VX) failed to provide adequate warning of the possible condition to three patients who began taking the drug as teenagers and shortly thereafter developed severe forms of IBD. The jury awarded compensatory damages of $12.89 million to be apportioned among the three individuals, now aged in their mid-to-late 20s.

The verdict capped a five-week trial in New Jersey State Superior Court and follows a series of recent plaintiffs' wins here and in other state courts against Nutley, NJ-based Roche over allegations that Accutane was a cause of severe bowel maladies, in some cases even after the plaintiffs discontinued use of the drug.

The three plaintiffs are all Florida residents -- Kelly Mace, 25, of Pensacola, along with Jordan Speisman, 27, of Gainesville, and Lance Sager, 28, of Ft. Lauderdale. All were first prescribed Accutane nearly a decade ago while still in their teens to relieve adolescent acne. All three succumbed to various forms of IBD, including ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, while taking Accutane or shortly thereafter. Mr. Speisman is expected to shortly undergo surgical removal of his colon; Ms. Mace and Mr. Sager will rely on medications in an effort to manage their disease in the future. As a result of their disease, all suffer from a dramatic increased risk of colon cancer.

Roche first advised physicians about a possible association between Accutane and inflammatory bowel disease in 1984. In the ensuing years, the evidence accumulated by Roche and outside scientists demonstrated that, far from a coincidence, Accutane was in fact inducing inflammatory bowel disease in Accutane patients. Nonetheless, Roche failed to strengthen its warnings either to patients or prescribing physicians.

The jury saw evidence of Roche studies, never published for the scientific and medical community, that Accutane's by-products damage the gastrointestinal tract and lead to degeneration and erosion of the intestinal lining -- a trigger for IBD.

Significantly, those studies, which were performed in animal models specifically to test the gastrointestinal safety of the drug, tested exposures that were lower than those seen in patients taking Accutane. Also in Roche's files but not shared with the medical community, were hundreds of patient reports of IBD in connection with Accutane use. Notably, in numerous of the reports, the symptoms of IBD appeared with Accutane use, subsided when Accutane use was terminated, but then recurred following re-introduction of the drug. Roche repeatedly determined internally that Accutane was the best and only explanation for these IBD reports.

In reaching their verdict, jurors had to address four specific questions:

  1. Did Roche fail to adequately warn plaintiffs' prescribing physician about the risk of IBD from Accutane that either Roche knew or should have known about prior to when the patients first began using the drug?
  2. Is the use of Accutane a cause of IBD in some people who take it?
  3. Would a stronger warning have prevented the plaintiff from taking Accutane?
  4. Was Accutane a substantial factor in causing this plaintiff to develop IBD?

Having answered "Yes" to all four questions, the jury then turned to the issue of what amount of money would "fairly and reasonably" compensate plaintiffs for their injury? The jury awarded Mr. Speisman approximately $8.64 million; Mr. Sager $2.62 million and Ms. Mace approximately $1.63 million. Punitive damages were not sought in the case.

"After years of denials, Roche will at last be forced to accept responsibility for its actions and the horrible illness its drug has burdened me with. While I am pleased with the jury's verdict, it's too bad that Roche can't give me my life back," said Mr. Speisman.

"This is an important outcome and consistent with the recognition by the medical community that Accutane is a trigger for IBD," said David Buchanan, a partner with Seeger Weiss in New York who served as co-counsel to the plaintiffs at trial.

"We applaud the jury's diligence and hope their verdict will finally break down the arrogance and stonewalling by Roche in denying Accutane's role in the prolonged illness of so many patients who took the drug unaware of the extreme, prolonged effects it would have on their intestinal tract," he added. He noted that Roche faces as many as 600 Accutane cases around the country.

Michael Hook with the firm Hook Bolton of Pensacola, Florida served as lead counsel in the case. Mr. Hook stated, "It is unconscionable that faced with so much scientific proof that Roche has continued to deny its culpability in these cases. Since first acknowledging in 1984 that Accutane may be associated with IBD, the company has collected a mountain of evidence showing that Accutane in fact induces, causes, and aggravates IBD. Yet, Roche never shared that information with prescribing doctors or patients. Shockingly, Roche had internally contraindicated Accutane for IBD, another fact not shared with the medical community."

Mr. Hook added. "As a result, the labeled warnings on IBD haven't changed to reflect the likely link, which most certainly would have caused most doctors to rethink prescribing Accutane and led patients to reconsider their potential for acquiring this horrific and debilitating disease."

The trial team also included Steve Boltonof Hook Bolton and Mary Jane Bass, Jack Lurton and Jack Zoesch of the Pensacola law firm Beggs & Lane.

The case captions were Mace v. Roche, Speisman v. Roche, and Sager v. Roche.

Note: Seeger Weiss LLP is one of nation's leading trial law firms handling complex individual, mass and class action litigation on behalf of consumers, investors and injured persons. The firm, with offices in New York, Philadelphia and New Jersey, represents plaintiffs in a variety of practice areas, including pharmaceutical injury, securities and investment fraud, consumer protection, environmental and asbestos exposures, personal injury and medical malpractice, product defect, antitrust, and commercial disputes. For more information, go to www.seegerweiss.com

    Contact:   Allan Ripp 212-262-7477 arippnyc@aol.com
               John Garger 212-262-7484 jgargernyc@aol.com

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SOURCE Seeger Weiss LLP
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