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In December 2017, a federal appeals court reinstated nearly 700 type 2 diabetes medication lawsuits that had previously been dismissed, allowing the cases to move forward because of new evidence that supported the plaintiffs’ claims. The plaintiffs claim that medications like Byetta, Januvia, and Victoza lead to serious injuries, including pancreatic cancer.

That court decision opened the door for other plaintiffs to file similar lawsuits, and many have, causing the litigation to grow. Now, according to the latest update from the Southern District of California, where the cases have been centralized, there are now over 900 cases. That number is expected to continue to rise.

Incretin Mimetics Linked with Increased Risk of Pancreatic Cancer

Studies linking type 2 diabetes medications to an increased risk of pancreatic cancer have found conflicting results. In 2013, the FDA released a drug safety communication noting that so-called “incretin mimetic” drugs like Byetta, Victoza, and Januvia could possibly increase the risk of pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas, and pre-cancerous cellular changes in the pancreas. They based their statement on a 2013 study published in JAMA Intern Med.

Another study that same year published in Diabetes also reported that patients using incretin-related drugs had higher rates of pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer than patients using other medications.

These drugs work by mimicking the incretin hormones the body uses to stimulate the release of insulin after a meal. Insulin helps process the glucose from food, keeping it at a stable level so that blood sugar levels don’t climb too high. In diabetic patients, the insulin either doesn’t work as well as it should, or there is not enough of it to do the job, so these drugs help patients keep their blood sugar levels under control.

In 2016, however, another study was published that contradicted previous findings, concluding that incretin-based drugs did not increase the risk of pancreatic cancer, but warning that doctors should still monitor patients for the disease.

Plaintiffs Claim Manufacturers Failed to Warn About Risks

In November 2015, Judge Anthony Battaglia dismissed cases concerning these drugs and pancreatic cancer. The Court noted that the FDA hadn’t found any conclusive evidence of a link. The plaintiffs appealed that decision, arguing that they were not allowed to present new evidence that would have supported their claims.

In 2018, for example, a new study came out again showing a connection. Researchers reviewed data from over 33,000 patients with diabetes treated with incretin drugs and over 525,000 treated with other drugs. They found that patients taking the incretin drugs had double the risk of developing pancreatic cancer as those taking other medications.

Plaintiffs claim that the manufacturers failed to warn about these serious risks, and should be held liable for patients’ injuries. The parties are now involved in discovery and in developing a pool of cases from which the first few “bellwether” cases will be chosen to go to trial. It’s expected that the first trials will not begin until 2020.

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