Astellas Pharma sued in St. Clair County by Protopic users

Ann Knef Oct. 15, 2007, 3:47am

The manufacturer of a skin disease ointment is being sued in St. Clair County Circuit Court by plaintiffs who claim that use of Protopic caused cancer.

John Lancaster of St. Louis claims he developed non-Hodgkin's lymphoma after using the product produced by Astellas Pharmaceuticals Inc. (API) for a year.

According to the suit filed Oct. 10, Lancaster's physician in April 2004 prescribed Protopic to be applied two times a day to treat dermatitis of the palms. On April 25, 2005, he was diagnosed with cancer.

The active ingredient in Protopic is tacrolimus, which works by affecting the body's immune system.

The 64-count lawsuit claims the defendants failed to adequately advise physicians of the risks of using Protopic "including the risk of developing malignancies," the complaint states. Other risks, according to the suit, include skin irritation and immunosuppressive diseases.

Another plaintiff, Sarah Leonberger, claims her father Bill Wood, Jr. of Illinois died as a result of using Protopic to treat dermatitis of the foot and lower leg. Wood began using Protopic twice daily in April 2004. He was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in January 2005 and died from T-cell lymphoma, a type of Non-Hodgkin's, on Oct. 14, 2005.

"Defendants, individually and collectively, downplayed and understated the health hazards and risks associated with the use of tacrolimus, and, through promotional literature as well as sales visits to prescribing physicians, deceived prescribing physicians and potential users of tacrolimus by relaying positive information, while concealing the nature and extent of known adverse and serious health effects," the complaint states.

Represented by John Driscoll and Seth Sharrock Webb of Brown & Crouppen in St. Louis, the plaintiffs collectively seek in excess of $32 million.

The defendants include API, a Japanese corporation, Astellas Pharma US, Inc., Astellas US, LLC and Astellas Pharma Manufacturing, Inc.

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