First trial over Zantac cancer claims set for November

By Brendan Pierson

(Reuters) – The first U.S. trial over claims that discontinued heartburn drug Zantac causes cancer is now expected to take place in California state court on Nov. 13, a lawyer for plaintiffs in the litigation said Friday.

Plaintiffs in the litigation claim that Zantac causes nine forms of cancer, including colorectal, breast and bladder cancer.

A trial in a case brought by a different plaintiff had been expected next month, but it was called off after the pill’s British drugmaker GSK Plc, the only defendant in the case, settled for an undisclosed amount without admitting liability.

Thousands of lawsuits over Zantac have been filed in California against GSK, Sanofi SA, Pfizer Inc and Boehringer Ingelheim, which all sold the drug at various times.

The trial is meant to serve as a test of the claims’ strength, and its outcome could shape negotiations toward a broader settlement.

Not all the companies, which have repeatedly denied that Zantac can cause cancer, are named in each lawsuit. Which specific case will go to trial in November has not yet been determined, according to a spokesperson for GSK.

First approved in 1983, Zantac became the world’s best selling medicine in 1988 and one of the first-ever drugs to top $1 billion in annual sales. It was originally sold by a forerunner of GSK.

In 2019, some manufacturers halted Zantac sales over concerns that its active ingredient, ranitidine, degraded over time to form a chemical called NDMA. While NDMA can be present in low levels in food and water, research has found it causes cancer in larger amounts.

The FDA in 2020 withdrew from the market all remaining brand name Zantac and generic versions.

The drugmakers scored a major victory in December, when a federal judge threw out all of the Zantac cases in U.S. federal court, some 50,000, after finding the opinions of the plaintiffs’ expert witnesses linking the drug to cancer were not backed by sound science.

The remaining cases are in state courts, most of them in Delaware, where more than 70,000 cases are pending.

(Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Aurora Ellis)