Jury Finds Novartis Not Liable for Jaw Disease

A U.S. federal jury found that a bone drug made by Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp was not to blame for the severe jaw deterioration developed by a Rhode Island man who died of cancer in 2005.

Karleen Hogan, the widow of Timothy Hogan, claimed in a lawsuit filed in 2006 that Novartis had failed to properly warn her husband about the severe adverse effects caused by Zometa, a drug used to strengthen bones in cancer patients. She sought compensatory damages for her husband's suffering.

The suit is one of an estimated 600 filed against the unit of Novartis AG in recent years blaming the company for suppressing information about adverse effects linked to Zometa and Aredia, another bone-strengthening drug.

According to documents presented in Brooklyn federal court, Hogan was prescribed Zometa in 2003 after being diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a type of cancer that affects blood plasma cells.

In 2004, a dental surgeon discovered Hogan had developed osteonecrosis of the jaw, which causes bones in the jaw to deteriorate. The surgeon suggested a link between Zometa and the disease, the lawsuit stated.

Hogan's widow said Novartis knew about the risks of Zometa but failed to inform physicians until late 2004. As a result, she said, Hogan developed the bone disease, which left him debilitated in his final years, the lawsuit alleged.

Novartis defended itself by pointing to testimony from the physician who prescribed Zometa to Hogan, who said the potential benefits of Zometa outweighed its risks. Further testimony from Hogan's dentist indicated that he had numerous dental problems when he first came in for treatment.

Counsel for Hogan and Novartis did not immediately return requests for comment on Thursday, a day after the jury ruled.

Hogan's case was initially consolidated with hundreds of Zometa and Aredia liability suits in multi-district litigation in Tennessee federal court. Similar litigation is also pending in a state court in New Jersey.

Hogan's is the fourth Zometa case to go to trial. In October 2010, a New Jersey superior court jury ruled in favor of Novartis. A jury in Montana state court awarded a plaintiff with the same jaw disease $3.2 million in October 2009, and in November, a federal jury in North Carolina awarded a North Carolina woman's family $12.8 million, later reduced to $1.26 million.

The case is Hogan v. Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, no. 06-00260.