Pfizer Inc.'s suspension of sales of its painkiller Bextra is likely to open the drugmaker to more product liability lawsuits, lawyers said on Thursday.
"There will be a stampede of lawsuits," said Matt Zapf, head of product liability at the Chicago law firm of Goldberg Kohn.
"We've had Bextra cases coming in for years on Stevens Johnson Syndrome," said Kimberly Wilson, an attorney at the Raleigh, North Carolina, firm of Lewis & Roberts. She referred to the potentially life-threatening skin allergy that Bextra has been associated with.
The cases are under review, but the law firm is definitely going to file at least one Bextra lawsuit, she said.
Officials at Pfizer were not immediately available to comment on how many lawsuits the company has been served involving Bextra or Celebrex, a similar, older drug.
Bextra and Celebrex belong to a class of drugs called COX-2 inhibitors that also includes Merck & Co.'s Vioxx, which was voluntarily withdrawn by the company last year after it was shown to increase the risk of stroke and heart attack.
Merck said last month it had been served with 1,357 Vioxx product liability lawsuits and expected many more.
Pfizer agreed to suspend sales of Bextra after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and European regulators said the risk of serious side effects, including Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, outweighed the drug's benefits.
But the company said it disagreed with the regulatory decisions on Bextra, which had sales last year of $1.3 billion, and will explore options under which it might be allowed to resume sales of the drug.
"The FDA should have done this months ago considering all of the information they had access to," Jere Beasley, a principal at the Montgomery, Alabama, law firm of Beasley Allen, which has filed some 58 lawsuits involving Vioxx, said in a statement.
Beasley Allen said it is currently reviewing more than 1,000 Bextra cases.
Its first trial against Pfizer regarding Vioxx is scheduled to begin on May 23, 2005 in Ashland, Alabama.