The federal judge overseeing thousands of Zantac claims in MDL-2924 issued an order that will result in the dismissal of Zantac lawsuits. Judge Rosenberg concluded plaintiffs failed to offer substantial evidence that the heartburn medication causes cancer. This decision came after the court granted the defendants’ motion to exclude expert testimony that plaintiffs claim establishes the chemicals in Zantac caused consumers to develop cancer. Without this crucial expert testimony, Zantac cancer claims cannot move forward. Plaintiffs’ attorneys intend to appeal the decision, but the outcome of such an appeal is uncertain.
The Origins of Zantac
Heartburn is a common affliction, with 20% to 30% of adult Americans experiencing symptoms once a week. Characterized by a burning pain in the chest, heartburn is the feeling that accompanies acid reflux, which is the backward flow of stomach acid into the esophagus. Glaxo Holdings Ltd, today a part of GlaxoSmithKline PLC, received FDA approval for the heartburn relief drug Zantac in 1983. Zantac quickly gained widespread popularity and became one of the world’s best-selling drugs by 1988.
In 1997, the patent on Zantac’s active ingredient, ranitidine, expired, leading several companies to manufacture generic versions of the drug. Ranitidine is an H2 blocker that reduces the amount of acid produced in one’s stomach. Once the FDA approved Pfizer’s over-the-counter version of Zantac, countless other companies followed suit. Soon consumers could readily access OTC versions of Zantac or by prescription.
Zantac Lawsuits Allege Heartburn Drug Causes Cancer
Thousands of individuals have filed lawsuits against drugmakers for adverse health effects associated with Zantac. FDA testing discovered traces of N-Nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) in ranitidine. NDMA occurs widely in the environment, but agencies have classified NDMA as a possible human carcinogen. Eventually, further research indicated exposure to heat and the passage of time could increase NDMA levels in ranitidine. This conclusion prompted the FDA to request the withdrawal of all OTC and prescription ranitidine products in 2020.
Consumers unknowingly exposed to hazardous levels of NDMA in Zantac claim to have developed various forms of cancer. Victims of Zantac filed lawsuits against manufacturers for distributing a defective drug while neglecting to inform the public about the risks of exposure to NDMA.
Federal Judge Dismisses Thousands of Zantac Lawsuits
The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation centralized federal Zantac cancer lawsuits in February 2020. By November 2022, the multidistrict litigation had amassed over 2,000 cases, with even more filed in state courts. On December 6, Judge Rosenberg granted the drug makers’ motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ expert testimony and dismiss federal claims. Judge Rosenberg questioned the testing conducted by the private company Valisure, which discovered high levels of NDMA in ranitidine.
In the order, Judge Rosenberg stated Valisure heated ranitidine to 266 degrees to reach exceedingly high levels of NDMA. The court pointed out this is well beyond the 98 degrees Fahrenheit found in the human body. Also, the order claimed Valisure mixed potentially deadly salt concentrations with ranitidine that generated unsafe NDMA levels. Even though plaintiffs did not use Valisure testing as testimony, Judge Rosenberg said plaintiff experts and chemists relied on similar testing methodology.
The Future of Zantac Litigation
While this order does not affect state Zantac lawsuits, it will impact federal claims surrounding the heartburn drug. Plaintiffs plan to appeal Judge Rosenberg’s decision, arguing that it is the jury’s role to consider the evidence. It is not unheard of for the U.S. Court of Appeals or Supreme Court to overturn an MDL dismissal, but it can take a few years.
As we await the fate of federal Zantac lawsuits, several trials are scheduled in state courts for 2023.