Frances’ mother, Yolanda, was prescribed Januvia in December 2006, soon after it was put on the market. She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in February 2008 and died within months. “It took my mother just over a year to develop Januvia pancreatic cancer; the doctors took her off Januvia as soon as she was diagnosed,” says Frances.
“Yolanda was an old-fashioned Italian girl from the Bronx. She was independent and took care of herself, and every day she went out with a group of friends to the local social club to play cards and gab. Although Yolanda was a diabetic, she was pretty healthy, maybe a little ache and pain here and there, common for anyone her age.
She was in her mid-70s when she passed away and these days that is too young; both sides of her family boast longevity. Pancreatic cancer is a horrific way to go, a death sentence. It is painful, not like getting an ulcer in your stomach. I don’t know anyone who has survived this kind of cancer.”
Frances adds that Januvia pancreatic cancer is not something that Merck, the pharmaceutical company responsible for Januvia, should disregard just because they have a few cases. But many Januvia pancreatitis cases have been reported and chronic pancreatitis is linked with an increased risk of pancreatic cancer.
“We told our mother that she had pancreatic cancer but we didn’t tell her it was a death sentence,” Frances explains. “The doctor told us immediately to put her affairs in order, she had about six months. First I had a nurse come to her house but within weeks we had to take her to the hospital.”
Frances has worked in medical schools for her entire career and she has been reading a lot of literature regarding Januvia. “I didn’t just jump on the Januvia lawsuit bandwagon without good reason,” she says. “When I read the research linking Januvia to pancreatic cancer, I couldn’t believe it - I would never have made the connection. When I read that Merck had some indication of this link with their animal studies (and the researchers published that connection), we filed a Januvia claim.
When you have published scientific data, that is a plus. Januvia cancer has been proven and now it is up to the Januvia attorneys and the court.”
While Exocrine pancreatic cancer is more common in people who have diabetes, Frances believes it is too coincidental that her mother developed the disease shortly after taking Januvia, particularly because she had her diabetes under control for so many years. Pancreatic cancer is also linked to smoking: Yolanda never smoked.
Januvia lawsuits accuse Merck & Co. of failure to warn, design defect, neglect, breach of implied and express warranty as well as negligent misrepresentation. Plaintiffs allege that Merck knew of the risks involved with the drug and did not adequately warn Januvia consumers of the risks.
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Merck never conducted safety studies in people who have a history of pancreatitis. And in 2009, the FDA warned that it is not known whether these people are at an increased risk if they take Januvia. Rather than voluntarily issue a black box warning, Merck said it “believes these [FDA] data do not demonstrate that a causal relationship exists between sitagliptin and pancreatitis.”
The FDA reported in September 2009 that Sitagliptin (Januvia) “has not been studied in patients with a history of pancreatitis. Therefore, it is not known whether these patients are at an increased risk for developing pancreatitis and the medication should be used with caution and with appropriate monitoring in patients with a history of pancreatitis.”