Class action lawsuit against anti-obesity drug Meridia can go ahead: B.C. court

VANCOUVER – The B.C. Supreme Court has ruled a class-action lawsuit against the makers of the anti-obesity drug Meridia can go ahead.

Six people were fighting for the right to launch a class action against drug makers Abbott Laboratories and generic manufacturer Apotex, arguing the drug caused them dire health effects, including heart attacks and a stroke.

Justice Robert Johnston agreed the six met the test of whether a case should be considered a class action.

“Those who took the drug and who allege harm as a result have a rational relationship to the negligence, failure to warn, and some claims pleaded under the Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act and the Competition Act,” Johnston wrote in a ruling released Tuesday.

Of those named in the case who were prescribed the drug, two had heart attacks, one suffered a stroke while on a trial sample of the drug and another had shortness of breath and chest pains before stopping the drug.

Johnston said the lawsuit will be able to examine whether the drug contributes to heart attacks, strokes and arrhythmia and whether the drug companies recklessly or negligently breached a duty to warn patients about harm from the use of the drug.

However, Johnston also ruled lawyers for the group did not offer enough facts to allow the lawsuit to include claims the drug companies negligently manufactured Meridia.

And he concluded the issue of whether the warnings included with the drug alerted patients sufficiently to its dangers will be a matter for trial “where the evidentiary record will be more complete, and proper decisions as to weight can be made.”

The lawyer for the group, Tony Merchant, said in a news release the judge’s decision is also important because he allowed the suit to go ahead against the generic version of the drug.

“Generics are pressed upon Canadians through the provincial health care systems in Canada,” Merchant said.

The ruling notes that between January 2003 and March 2009, a clinical trial was conducted examining sibutramine — the ingredient in Meridia — and its long-term impacts on cardiovascular health and death.

The results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Sept. 2, 2010 and concluded those with “pre-existing cardiovascular conditions had an increased risk of nonfatal myocardial infarction and nonfatal stroke, but not of cardiovascular death.”

In October 2010, Abbott and Apotex Inc. withdrew their sibutramine products from the market in Canada.

In 2009, worldwide sales of Meridia topped $300 million.

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