Utah AG hires familiar faces for pharma suit

John O'Brien May 12, 2010, 11:45am


SALT LAKE CITY (Legal Newsline) - The private attorneys who earned nearly $4 million in Eli Lilly & Co.'s settlement with the state of Utah are getting a chance at another large payday.

State attorney general Mark Shurtleff has again hired Salt Lake firm Steele & Biggs, the attorneys who steered the November settlement with Lilly worth $24 million. The new lawsuit, against Janssen Pharmaceutica and AstraZeneca, was filed May 3 in Salt Lake County court.

It is a similar complaint to the Lilly suit. It alleges the companies withheld information about weight gain-related side effects of their prescription antipsychotic drugs.

Lilly's was Zyprexa. Janssen's is Risperdal and AstraZeneca's is Seroquel.

(T)he companies have engaged in false and misleading marketing, advertising and sales campaigns to promote these drugs for indications that are not approved by the FDA," the complaint says.

"Defendants successfully deceived the FDA, the state of Utah, physicians and consumers regarding the comparative safety, efficacy and superiority of Risperdal and Seroquel over traditional or other atypical antipsychotics in order to achieve a greater market share by expanding the use of Risperdal and Seroquel beyond the miniscule patient population for which Risperdal and Seroquel were approved as a drug therapy."

Joining Steele & Biggs in filing the complaint was Barroway Topaz Kessler Meltzer & Check of Pennsylvania; Nix, Patterson & Roach of Texas; and Rossbach Hart of Montana.

Rossbach Hart represented Montana in Zyprexa litigation, and the Barroway firm represented Ohio pension funds in litigation against Bank of America.

Steele & Biggs is a part of Siegfried & Jensen, which has donated to Shurtleff's campaign over the years.

The firm has donated $58,000 to Shurtleff and hired his daughter to work as a paralegal on Zyprexa and Vioxx cases. Shurtleff's daughter only worked for the firm for less than a year, quitting to give birth and spend time with her child.

"We're competent to do it. We're doing it in a way that's scientific, and that's rational," attorney Joseph Steele said, according to a Salt Lake City Weekly report about the Lilly case.

"Frankly, we are the only ones that have managed to get the job done."

AstraZeneca recently agreed to pay $520 million to settle claims brought by the federal government that it improperly marketed Seroquel.

From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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