Nova Scotia

GlaxoSmithKline agrees to pay out millions in diabetes drug class action

Nova Scotia Justice Michael Wood approved a nearly $4 million settlement agreement between the plaintiffs and the company earlier this week, after a contentious class-action lawsuit against GlaxoSmithKiline dragged on for years.

‘We’re happy to bring this to a conclusion, bring some justice to the class members’

The plaintiffs in the case claimed the drug Avandia increased the risk of cardiovascular events including heart attacks and congestive heart failure. (Associated Press)

Pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline has agreed to pay out nearly $4 million in compensation to Canadians who suffered cardiovascular problems related to its diabetes drug Avandia.

Nova Scotia Justice Michael Wood approved a settlement agreement between the plaintiffs and the company earlier this week, after a contentious class-action lawsuit against GlaxoSmithKiline dragged on for years.

"We're happy to bring this to a conclusion, bring some justice to the class members for the harm that has been caused by their consumption of Avandia," said Ray Wagner, the lawyer who filed the class-action lawsuit.    

The plaintiffs in the case claimed Avandia, which is used to treat Type 2 diabetes, increased the risk of cardiovascular events including heart attacks and congestive heart failure. They said GlaxoSmithKline failed to provide adequate warnings to people taking the drug.

It took almost a decade for the class-action lawsuit to finally deliver results for the plaintiffs. 

Ray Wagner is the lawyer who filed the class-action lawsuit against GlaxoSmithKline. (CBC)

GlaxoSmithKline has agreed to pay people who meet certain eligibility criteria and who may have suffered from four types of cardiac events: myocardial infarction, congestive heart failure, coronary artery bypass graft and percutaneous coronary intervention with stent placement.

The company will pay $3,666,666.67 into a fund for people who suffered myocardial infarction, coronary artery bypass graft and percutaneous coronary intervention with stent placement.

The parties have agreed that 142 class members are eligible to receive some of that money. It's estimated there could be 200 approved claimants who will receive $18,333.33 each, according to the court decision.

Another $200,000 has been set aside for people who suffered congestive heart failure, based on 60 approved claimants receiving $3,333.33 each. If more are approved, GlaxoSmithKline has agreed to make payments to an additional 340 people.

"Our expectation at the outset was that we would be able to secure more compensation," said Wagner. "But with a change in the science with respect to Avandia and its contribution towards congestive heart failure and myocardial infarcts, has changed it considerably."

When Wagner originally filed the claim in 2009 he said a study showed there were higher incidences of congestive heart failure and myocardial infarction in people who used Avandia. But a re-examination of those findings through Duke University refuted some of those conclusions.

The drug Avandia was used to help treat Type 2 diabetes. (Paul Sakuma/The Associated Press)

"We have to rely on the science as it unfolds and unfortunately it didn't unfold favourably for the class," he said.     

The face of the class-action lawsuit was Albert Sweetland. He was prescribed Avandia in December 2001 and took it for five years. A year after he stopped taking the drug he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. 

But in 2016, lawyers for GlaxoSmithKline pointed out that Sweetland had a lot of health issues relating to his diabetes. 

The legal proceedings in the case stretch back to August 2009, but the class action was only certified in December 2016 after being vigorously contested by GlaxoSmithKline. The company appealed the certification decision and planned to go to the Court of Appeal if the settlement agreement hadn't been approved.

Even the settlement took years to work out. 

"Progress was slow but we were intent on bringing that to a conclusion one way or another and we're happy to report that we're able to bring some compensation to those people that have been harmed," said Wagner. 

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