Pfizer Agrees to Settle More than 10,000 Zantac Cancer Suits

By  Jef Feeley | May 9, 2024

Pfizer Inc. has agreed to settle more than 10,000 cases accusing it of hiding the cancer risks of its Zantac heartburn drug, according to people familiar with the deal, the biggest of the litigation.

The agreements cover cases in state courts across the US but don’t completely resolve the company’s exposure to Zantac claims, according to the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the settlement publicly. Financial details of the accords weren’t immediately available.

The deal is likely to reassure investors, who have seen other Zantac makers, including GSK Plc and Sanofi, sign settlements. Concerns about the drugmakers’ exposure to Zantac suits helped wipe out about $45 billion in combined market value in the summer of 2022. The shares have since recovered and have risen on news of the earlier deals.

Pfizer shares fell 1.5% in trading before US markets opened Thursday. They’ve lost 27% in the past 12 months through Wednesday’s close.

“Pfizer has explored and will continue to explore opportunistic settlements of certain cases if appropriate, and has settled certain cases,” the New York-based company said in an emailed statement. “The company has not sold a Zantac product in more than 15 years and did so only for a limited period of time.”

Settling and Fighting

Bloomberg News reported last month that Sanofi agreed to pay more than $100 million to resolve about 4,000 Zantac cases. Zantac has been owned by different drugmakers in its more than 30-year run as one of the most popular antacids in the US.

The settlements come as GSK defends itself in its first US jury trial over claims it knew Zantac posed a serious risk. In opening statements May 2 in Chicago, a lawyer for the plaintiff blamed corporate greed for his client’s colorectal cancer, while an attorney for GSK told the jurors no scientific studies have linked Zantac to the disease, which affects millions of Americans every year.

GSK has also settled some Zantac cases before they could go to trial.

News of the Pfizer settlement surfaced in a filing in state court in Delaware tied to the Chicago trial. More than 70,000 Zantac suits have been filed in Delaware, where a judge is mulling whether scientific evidence underlying those cases is sufficiently robust to allow them to go to trial.

Telltale Filing

Zantac plaintiffs’ lawyers filed an April 29 notice that the Chicago judge had reviewed the underlying science and cleared the case for trial. They noted that the order applied only to GSK and Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH, which also made Zantac at one point, because “Pfizer had already settled.”

Zantac, developed by GSK and Warner-Lambert, hit the US market as a prescription drug in 1983 before becoming an over-the-counter heartburn treatment in 1996. Sanofi, which acquired it in 2017, recalled it in 2019, about a month after an independent lab released tests showing the likely carcinogen NDMA in the drug and its generics. The lab’s research indicated the drug’s active ingredient, ranitidine, formed NDMA over time or at higher temperatures.

The US Food and Drug Administration confirmed the findings in 2020 and ordered drugmakers to take all versions of the medicine off the market. Sanofi has since returned Zantac to store shelves but without ranitidine. It is now made with famotidine, the active ingredient in competitor Pepcid.

The companies got a big win in 2022 when a federal judge threw out more than 5,000 suits in Florida, saying the science behind the cancer claims was flawed. That decision also applied to about 50,000 unfiled cases covered by a multi-district litigation, according to court filings. Many of those cases later were filed in Delaware.

The main Delaware case is In Re Zantac, N22C-109-101, Delaware Superior Court (Wilmington).

Photo: A researcher prepares to test a bottle of Zantac 150 at the Valisure LLC lab in New Haven, Connecticut, US on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022. In the course of just three years, Valisure’s quest to hunt down cancer-causing chemicals in everyday products has impacted pharmaceuticals and consumer goods in markets worth an estimated $9 billion that touch the lives of tens of millions of Americans. Bloomberg photo.

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