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On February 2013, a South Carolina woman filed a new Byetta lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California. According to court documents, the plaintiff alleges that manufacturers Amylin Pharmaceuticals and Eli Lilly & Co. failed to provide adequate warnings as to the health risks of the product, including that it can increase the risk of thyroid cancer.

Byetta is a member of the new class of drugs known as glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonists, which slow down the rate at which glucose enters the bloodstream and help to lower blood sugar levels in those with type II diabetes. Recent reports, however, have linked Byetta and other drugs in this class to an increased risk of pancreatic and thyroid cancer.

Plaintiff Claims Byetta Caused Pancreatic Cancer

In her Byetta lawsuit, plaintiff Vicki Lankford states that she began taking Byetta around February 1, 2006, and continued to take it through at least March 3, 2010. On about February 19, 2010, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, allegedly related to her intake of Byetta.

Lankford alleges the defendants concealed their knowledge that Byetta could cause life-threatening pancreatic cancer from the general public and the medical community, and notes that the manufacturers do not even mention pancreatic cancer in the drug’s product insert.

Studies Link Diabetes Drugs with Cancer

Lankford references to several studies questioning the safety of Byetta and other similar drugs. In February 2010, for example, researchers wrote in Diabetes Care that GLP-1-based drugs could increase the risk of pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), which could, in turn, increase the risk of pancreatic cancer.

“We feel that enough preliminary evidence has accumulated to suggest that there is a plausible risk that long-term recipients of GLP-1-based therapy may develop asymptomatic chronic pancreatitis,” the researchers wrote, “and worse, subsequently a minority of individuals treated by this class of drugs may develop pancreatic cancer.”

A second study published in February 2011 in the journal Gastroenterology reported that pancreatitis was 10 times more frequently reported in patients taking Byetta and 6 times more frequently reported in those taking Januvia, another similar drug, than in various other anti-diabetic drugs.

Studies in Germany indicated similar results, with reports of pancreatic cancer unusually high in patients taking Byetta, with the period between the start of treatment and diagnosis of pancreatic cancer being about 12.2 months on average.

Byetta Manufacturers Deny Links to Cancer

Though the manufacturers of Byetta have suggested that the increase in pancreatic cancer is likely due to the increased risk of pancreatitis in those with type II diabetes, animal studies have shown pancreatitis to be a consequence of GLP-1 therapy. A 2012 study noted that human and rodent pancreases contain numerous GLP-1 receptors in areas in which cancer is thought to originate. Mice that are genetically predisposed to pancreatic cancer were found to develop it more quickly than usual when given Byetta.

In April 2012, Public Citizen, a non-profit consumer-advocacy organization, petitioned the FDA to withdraw Victoza, another GLP-1 class drug from the market.

Second Lawsuit Links Byetta to Thyroid Cancer

Another similar lawsuit was filed on May 9, 2013 in California alleging that Byetta manufacturers concealed the knowledge that the drug could also increase the risk of thyroid cancer. The plaintiff states that she started taking Byetta in January 2007, and continued to take it through August 2007. She alleges Byetta’s to blame for her thyroid cancer diagnosis.

A 2011 study examining the relationship between GLP-1 medications and cancer published in Gastroenterology also indicated that the reported event rate for thyroid cancer was 4.73-fold greater in patients treated with Byetta than those taking other therapies. The plaintiff in the May Byetta lawsuit alleges that the manufacturers failed to provide any warning on the Byetta label related to its link to thyroid cancer, and states that “Byetta is quite simply too dangerous and defective as formulated.”

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