Pharmaceutical firm Takeda has been fined $6 billion for covering up health risks relating to bladder cancer associated with their popular type 2 diabetes drug Actos.
The firm has been ordered to pay out $6 billion after a US court found the company to be guilty of destroying and deleting thousands of documents relating to health data about the drug. Takeda’s partner, the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, has been fined $3 billion for its part in the cover up.
Actos, also known as pioglitazone, has been on the market since 1999 and has amassed over $16 billion in sales. Takeda has previously fought off a number of previous legal trials over compensation claims following bladder cancer. Previous compensation claims have been unsuccessful because of the presence of other factors existing that also raise the risk of bladder cancer, such as long term smoking.
Allen vs Takeda
In the latest legal trial, Terrence Allen has been awarded $1.5 million in compensatory damages. Whilst it is hard to be sure whether Actos indeed caused Allen’s bladder cancer, Takeda could not defend the fact that it had destroyed thousands of documents relating to health risks associated with the drug which had emerged years before the company issued warnings about possible bladder cancer risks.
The US court heard that executives at Takeda had held back informing drug regulators as Actos was vital to Takeda’s survival as a competitive company.
Damaging patient trust
Because documents and data have been destroyed, the jury in the case cannot ascertain what risks of cancer the drug displayed and neither can regulators.
When drugs are tested for safety, the research is primarily funded by the pharmaceutical companies. Whilst it seems fair for the companies to pay for the trials that prepare the ground for profit making activities, the current system has also allowed the pharmaceutical companies a certain level of choice as to what trial data is submitted to regulators.
What this means is that if a clinical trial shows increased health risks, the company may choose to send results of a different trial that shows more favourable results instead, as long as they have significant alternative data.
It is certainly not the first time that a pharmaceutical company has chosen to hide unfavourable data. In November, 2011, GlaxoSmithKlein were fined $3 billion for covering up data related to heart attack risks for people taking the drug Avandia. With two diabetes drug companies having been at the centre of large scale, multi-billion dollar cover ups, patient trust in diabetes medication is bound to be affected.
Should I continue to take Actos (pioglitazone)?
Whilst the legal trial in the US casts significant doubt around the safety of Actos with regard to bladder cancer, if bladder cancer is a side effect of the medication, it is still relatively rare.
If you are taking Actos, it is important to continue taking the medication. If you have concerns about taking the medication, speak to your doctor who will be able to take your individual circumstances and medical history into account.

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