The Link Between Diabetes Medicines and Cancer

Millions of Americans – over 8% of the population – have diabetes, the majority of which is type 2 diabetes. This makes the drug market for this condition extremely attractive and profitable to pharmaceutical companies around the world. Unfortunately, in its haste to develop new and better diabetic medications, Big Pharma is not testing these drugs for long-term safety risks, leaving millions of patients vulnerable to unknown, unstudied side effects. Diabetes drug lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm take a closer look at some of the most dangerous diabetic medications.

What makes the issue particularly frightening is that researchers do not yet know exactly why different drugs affect cancer risks in diabetic patients. In the case of pancreatic cancer, which is most recently linked to metformin (Fortamet, Glumetza, Riomet, Glucophage), the differences in medical history between those who develop cancer and those who do not is minimal. Meaning, medical experts do not really know why the drugs spur cancer development in some patients over others.

Pancreatic cancer is also significantly associated with Januvia, Janumet, Byetta and Victoza, which are diabetic drugs in a class known as incretin mimetics. They are typically injected, and there has been massive litigation surrounding these drugs after it became clear they were causing pancreatic injury.

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most fatal cancers because it spreads incredibly fast and is extremely difficult to diagnose in its early stages, when it is easiest to remove or treat. The issue at center of the recent litigation against incretin mimetic manufacturers is that they knew, or reasonably should have known, that these drugs could cause cancer, and failed to inform doctors and patients.

Merck, which developed Januvia, failed to conduct safety studies in patients with a history of pancreatitis, even though this was a known risk factor for the drug. This seems even more negligent when one considers the three major risk factors of developing pancreatic cancer: excess body weight, pancreatitis, and diabetes. Researchers are now trying to differentiate between cancer incidence because of taking certain drugs, and what may simply be the result of a poor diet and lack of physical activity in patients with diabetes.

For some patients, the link is inarguable. One woman was in her mid-70s when she passed away from pancreatic cancer. Other than her diabetes diagnosis, she was otherwise pretty healthy and active, and prescribed to Januvia in 2006 to help her maintain her blood sugar. Just over a year after starting the medication she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and died within month. The woman’s daughter has filed a claim against Merck on her mother’s behalf, accusing the company of designing a defective drug, failing to warn about the pancreatic risks, and negligent misrepresentation.

Actos and Bladder Cancer

Another medication for type 2 diabetes, Actos, has been subject to a mass of litigation due to its association with bladder cancer. The defendants in these cases, Eli Lilly and Takeda Pharmaceuticals, are accused of similar counts of negligence and failure to warn as Merck. Government drug agencies in many countries, including Germany and France, have pulled Actos from their markets because of the cancer risks, however, the FDA has failed to take any such action and it remains on American market.

In recent trial proceedings Actos plaintiffs called the Eli Lilly executive in charge of global marketing to testify on the drug and its sales materials. In his testimony, the executive showed a stunning lack of knowledge about the drugs’ marketing despite previous statements that he was readily familiar on the drug. This type of lack of compliance with federal and legal proceedings is, unfortunately, not uncommon for Big Pharma.

More than 6,000 Actos lawsuits have been filed against Lilly and Takeda, all of which allege bladder cancer development from taking the drug. Takeda is also acting maliciously in these trials by knowingly destroying emails and other documents and data related to Atos, despite court orders requiring to preserve that evidence.

Our team of diabetes drug attorneys will continue to report on the Actos and Januvia litigation, as well as any new dangerous side effects associated with these medications. If you or someone you love was prescribed a type 2 diabetes drug and suffered severe complications, contact our firm immediately. Our legal consultations are always free and confidential, and we never get paid unless we get you an award or settlement.

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