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AbbVie, facing thousands of lawsuits about its AndroGel testosterone supplement, notches a significant win

Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Business News

AbbVie did not respond to multiple requests seeking comment.

Men across the country have filed nearly 7,000 lawsuits claiming injury from various testosterone replacement drugs, 4,500 of them involving AbbVie's AndroGel.

The lawsuits, filed in district courts across the country, have been consolidated before Judge Matthew Kennelly in Chicago federal court, who last year began hearing bellwether cases that are intended to be representative of the larger group and provide guideposts for whether the drug companies should settle the rest and what the value of the settlements should be. Three of the four federal bellwether trials completed so far have involved AbbVie.

Meanwhile, more than 200 additional testosterone drug cases await judgment in Cook County Circuit Court, many involving Illinois plaintiffs with lawsuits against AbbVie. The one test case tried so far, involving a 66-year-old man who suffered a heart attack while taking AndroGel, resulted in a verdict in favor of AbbVie, but the man's attorneys are seeking a new trial that will allow them to present evidence on the internal decision-making behind the company's sales tactics. That evidence was not permitted in the initial trial.

Advertisements by AbbVie and other companies substantially increased testosterone testing and use of testosterone treatments between 2009 and 2013, according to a study published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association. More than 4.8 million prescriptions for testosterone gels and creams were dispensed in 2012, up 40 percent from 2009, according to IQVIA, a health data research company. The lion's share -- more than 3 million -- were for AndroGel.

Bob Nolte, the Arizona retiree who recently lost his case against AbbVie after a three-week trial, was prescribed AndroGel in the summer of 2012 after getting a testosterone test at his doctor's office. He asked for the test after seeing TV commercials suggesting "low-T" could be to blame for low libido and low energy, according to a transcript of his testimony.

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Two months after he started applying the gel, Nolte, 72 at the time, experienced chest pain he described as "10 out of 10" and went the hospital, where he was told he had multiple blood clots in both lungs.

The event "very much changed my mobility," he said in his testimony, making it difficult for him to walk, and he was advised he would have to take blood thinners for the rest of his life.

"It was terribly bad at first. I had two shoe sizes larger, walking with a walker," said Nolte, who was president and CEO of the health services group at the nonprofit Volunteers of America, and later ran a computer consulting firm, before retiring. "I'm kind of happy with my recovery, but it was no fun at all."

AndroGel sales soared to a peak of $1.15 billion in 2012, and it was AbbVie's second most-lucrative drug behind Humira, which treats rheumatoid arthritis, according to the company's regulatory filings.

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