The Taxotere permanent hair loss litigation is heating up in courts across the country, and one new lawsuit filed in California alleges that the maker of the chemotherapy drug, Sanofi-Aventis, misrepresented the benefits of Taxotere to the public, and intentionally withheld information about Taxotere side effects, including permanent hair loss.
“What many cancer patients don’t know about Taxotere, however, is that the chemotherapy medication has been linked to an increased risk of hair loss (alopecia) that may become permanent, and pending Taxotere lawsuits accuse Sanofi-Aventis of failing to warn the public and healthcare providers about this risk.”
The Taxotere lawsuit was filed by Ami Dodson, and includes allegations that the breast cancer medication caused her to suffer permanent hair loss, a condition called alopecia, and that Sanofi-Aventis engaged in deceptive marketing practices to improve Taxotere sales, while hiding the drug’s increased toxicity compared to similar chemotherapy medications.
The alleged Taxotere scheme began in 1996, the year Taxotere was approved by the FDA, and involved Sanofi instructing its employees to misrepresent the benefits of Taxotere’s “off-label” uses to improve its marketability. Sanofi is also accused of paying kickbacks to medical professionals in order to persuade them to prescribe Taxotere for off-label uses not approved by the FDA. As a result of Sanofi’s allegedly deceptive marketing practices, Taxotere sales skyrocketed from $424 million in 2000 to $1.4 billion in 2004, largely influenced by marketing based on clinical trials sponsored by the drug manufacturing company itself.
“Contrary to defendants’ claims of superior efficacy, post-market surveillance has shown that the more potent and more toxic Taxotere does not, in fact, offer increased efficacy or benefits over other taxanes, as defendants have claimed and advertised,” Dodson’s claim states. The Taxotere lawsuit also alleges that, “Defendants concealed the existence of studies from the FDA, physicians and patients that refuted defendants’ claims.” One of these studies was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2008, and concluded that a rival chemotherapy drug was more effective for certain patients, yet Sanofi continued to promote Taxotere’s “superior efficacy,” according to Dodson.
Although temporary hair loss is a common side effect of most chemotherapy medications, in most cases, the hair grows back once the treatment is completed. Unfortunately, studies have shown that hair loss from Taxotere may become permanent and may occur over the entire body, including loss of eyelashes, eyebrows and pubic hair. In the 1990s, Sanofi-Aventis sponsored the GEICAM study to compare the safety profiles of two types of chemotherapy regimens for breast cancer patients, and by 2005, clinical trial results showed that 9.2% of patients taking Taxotere during chemotherapy suffered hair loss that lasted 10 years or longer. Dodson’s product liability lawsuit alleges that the drug manufacturing company withheld these results and others from the public.
According to Dodson, she never would have used Taxotere if she had known it could cause permanent hair loss, especially since there are other less toxic chemotherapy medications available. “Permanent baldness (permanent alopecia) is a disfiguring condition, especially for women,” Dodson says in her complaint. “Women who experience disfiguring permanent alopecia as a result of the use of Taxotere suffer great mental anguish as well as economic damages, including but not limited to loss of work or inability to work due to significant psychological damage.”
There are close to three million women in the United States with a history of breast cancer, and nearly 75% of these women are prescribed the chemotherapy drug Taxotere. In Dodson’s lawsuit, she alleges that “Defendants [preyed] on one of the most vulnerable group of individuals at the most difficult time in their lives.” She also states that, “Defendants obtained billions of dollars in increased revenues at the expense of unwary cancer victims simply hoping to survive their condition and return to a normal life.”
The main point raised in Dodson’s lawsuit, a point expected to be raised in future Taxotere hair loss lawsuits as well, is that Sanofi knew that its chemotherapy drug was more dangerous than its competitors’ products and frequently caused permanent hair loss, but still went to great lengths to hide the problem from consumers and promote the medication’s alleged superiority. As a result of Sanofi’s allegedly deceptive actions, former Taxotere users who have experienced permanent alopecia are now pursuing legal claims against Sanofi, seeking financial compensation for their injuries, medical bills and psychological pain and suffering.
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