A total of 353 Taxotere lawsuits that were consolidated into multi-county litigation in New Jersey Superior Court this past August will be moving forward after a conference scheduled for this upcoming Thursday, October 4th.  The conference was scheduled in an order issued a week after the application for centralization was approved.

Last week, lawyers for both sides submitted statements including a list of all companies and assistant counsel involved, noting possible conflicts of interests and other reasons for recusal, as well as all pertinent actions currently underway in state and federal courts, and information on a possible settlement. Taxotel lawsuits that may be filed in the state of New Jersey going forward will also be included in the current mass tort action.

Taxotere, known generically as docetaxel anhydrous, first received FDA approval in 1996.  Originally intended for the treatment of breast cancer, it has since received approval for the treatment of additional forms of the disease, including cancers of the stomach, prostate, and lung.  All chemotherapy treatments can cause patients to lose their hair temporarily; however, according to lawsuits against drug manufacturer Sanofi-Aventis, those who have undergone treatment with docetaxel have suffered permanent hair loss.

There is strong evidence to indicate that the drugmaker was well aware of the risks of permanent hair loss long ago.  One such study, published in Cancer Research more than three years ago, found that up to 15 percent of patients who are treated with Taxotere experience permanent, irreversible hair loss.  Internal studies at Sanofi in 2006 indicated a 3 percent chance that patients taking the drug would lose all their hair. However, independent studies found the risk to be closer to 6 percent.

What is particularly troubling, however, is that Sanofi issued warnings about permanent hair loss in Europe and Canada in 2005 – but did not do so in the U.S. until 2015.

In any event, it is clear that executives and scientists at Sanofi were aware of these risks and attempted to conceal this information from U.S. patients.  In addition to irreversible alopecia, Taxotere has been implicated in a condition known as neutropenic enterocolitis, an inflammation of the pouch located between the small and large intestines near the appendix.  Five patients who have been treated with Taxotere are known to have died as the result of this side effect.

In addition to the multi-county litigation in New Jersey, approximately 1,000 federal lawsuits have been consolidated in Louisiana.  The first bellwether trial in that jurisdiction is scheduled to begin in May of 2019.

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K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.