A California lawsuit claims that the maker of a widely used breast cancer drug hid harmful side effects, including permanent hair loss, and misrepresented the benefits of using the drug.
The suit filed by Ami Dodson claims that Sanofi-Aventis, the maker of chemotherapy drug Taxotere (docetaxel), aggressively marketed its drug without noting harmful side effects, including permanent hair loss and increased toxicity compared with similar drugs used to treat breast cancer.
It is estimated that of the almost three million women with a history of breast cancer in the U.S., 75% were prescribed Taxotere. A breast cancer research group (GEICAM) study sponsored by Sanofi-Aventis showed that 9.2% of patients who took Taxotere suffered hair loss lasting more than 10 years. That hair loss can occur over the entire body.
A 2006 independent study determined that up to 6.3% of patients on Taxotere grew back less than 50% of their hair. Although alopecia is a common side effect related to chemotherapy drugs, permanent alopecia is not. Another study published in 2013 by the National Cancer Research Institute found permanent hair loss as a side effect in 10-15% of Taxotere users.
In the complaint, Dodson said that Sanofi-Aventis hid the results of this study and “preyed on one of the most vulnerable groups of individuals at the most difficult time in their lives. 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 FDA approved Taxotere in 1996 for use in treating breast cancer. Subsequently, the drug was approved for use in treating other cancers, including head, neck, gastric, prostate and non-small cell lung cancer. In December 2015, the FDA ordered Sanofi-Aventis to update its labeling on Taxotere to include the potential for permanent hair loss.
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