ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – A New Jersey jury Tuesday found that Swiss drugmaker Roche Holding AG failed to adequately warn a patient of the bowel disease risks associated with its potent acne medicine Accutane and awarded him $2.5 million in damages.
The jury, during its third day of deliberations, also found that the failure to warn was a major contributing cause of his contracting the bowel disease and awarded the plaintiff an additional $119,000 to cover medical expenses.
The trial was the first of about 400 U.S. lawsuits involving Accutane, which has been on the market since 1982.
Roche, which runs its U.S. operation out of Nutley, New Jersey, said it believes it has significant grounds to appeal the verdict and intends to pursue them.
"Notwithstanding the verdict, the cause of inflammatory bowel disease remains unknown and there is no reliable scientific evidence that Accutane causes inflammatory bowel disease," the company said in a statement, adding that the medicine's label has contained a bowel disease warning for more than 20 years.
In considering New Jersey state consumer fraud charges, the jury in New Jersey Superior Court found for Roche, saying the company did not misrepresent or conceal Accutane's bowel risks prior to June 1995.
Andrew McCarrell, a 36-year-old computer manager from Alabama, said he had undergone multiple surgeries, including having his colon removed, after taking the drug in 1995. His symptoms included chronic diarrhea and incontinence, according to court documents.
"It's a huge result for the broader litigation," McCarrell's attorney David Buchanan said. "It bodes well for the 400 other Accutane cases."
McCarrell, who has three children ages 10 months to 7 years old, said after the verdict that he will now be able to afford better medical treatment and to take time off from work, unpaid if necessary, to deal with his condition.
"I'm ecstatic," he told reporters. "I hope this means (other plaintiffs) will finally get some justice. They deserve it just as much as I do.
"Hopefully, this will just be the start of getting them some relief," McCarrell said.
Jurors interviewed following the verdict said they believed Roche should have done more testing of the drug after it was on the market and before McCarrell began using the medicine.
"We would like to send a message to Roche to clearly do further testing and evaluation," said Cynthia Spivey, a 45-year-old casino worker. "They should have done way more testing in 11 years," she said.
Mark Schoettler, 48, said the jury had agreed there was no consumer fraud because there did not seem to be a deliberate attempt by the company to deceive or conceal the nature of the product. "It was benign neglect, not malice," he said.
Roche shares were down 0.35 percent in Europe.