Updated: July 3, 2019
Taxotere is a prescription medication used to destroy cancer cells and stop them from replicating. It does this by targeting what are known as microtubules—microscopic structures that play a key role in the division of cells. The drug increases the production of these microtubule structures while simultaneously stopping them from being disassembled, creating a sort of cellular traffic jam that makes it impossible for the cell to function or divide.
What makes Taxotere so effective and valuable as a chemotherapy agent is that it interferes with the most essential mechanism of the disease. Cancer is essentially a case of abnormal, out-of-control cell growth, so the drug’s ability to jam up these cells and stop the process is extremely valuable.
Some abnormal cell growth in the body can lead to benign tumors that only pose risks to the tissues and organs around them. Cancerous malignant tumors, on the other hand, have the ability to trigger abnormal cell division in other tissues, allowing the cancer to invade other organs and areas of the body. This high risk of the potential to spread quickly throughout the body makes it all the more crucial that doctors use drugs like Taxotere to stop the division before it spreads too far.
Since it was introduced by Sanofi in 1996 and subsequently approved by the FDA, doctors have confidently used Taxotere to treat breast cancer, stomach cancer, prostate cancer, and non-small-cell lung cancer. It is most commonly prescribed to patients who are suffering from late-stage (or metastasized) cancer, but it has also been used in the treatment of earlier stages.
Despite the good things Taxotere can do, many former chemotherapy patients have since alleged that they suffered permanent hair loss due to alopecia after using the drug. They also say that Sanofi failed to properly warn them or their doctors about the heightened risk of this irreversible condition. As a result, many of the people who have been harmed by treatment with Taxotere have filed lawsuits against Sanofi. Law firms like ours stand ready to defend these wronged victims
Chemotherapy drugs are powerful substances known for being harsh on the body; because cancer is so difficult to destroy otherwise, chemo is something of a brute-force process. Unfortunately, it’s still one of our most effective methods to combat cancer and save people’s lives.
The intense nature of chemotherapy medications can lead to a variety of distressing (but temporary) side effects like the following:
… and many others. These kinds of temporary side effects were also common in those taking Taxotere, and they were readily disclosed by Sanofi. In the absence of other warnings, the drug would seem to be no more dangerous than any other chemotherapy medication.
Of the common side effects, hair loss is probably the most well-known hallmark of chemotherapy. Patients can typically expect their hair to grow back when the medications are stopped. In the case of Taxotere, however, the drug can cause the patient to develop alopecia, an untreatable medical condition in which the body’s immune system attacks its own hair follicles. Sadly, individuals with alopecia do not see their hair grow back after chemotherapy ends.
Although some severe side effects may be expected during chemo, they are typically not expected to be permanent. If there is an increased risk of permanent damage, it is the responsibility of the manufacturer to notify doctors and patients of that risk. U.S. users were not warned of such Taxotere side effects.
Had they been warned of the potential for permanent hair loss, cancer patients say they would have opted for other chemotherapy drugs—drugs that are equally effective but which present no such risks. If not for the company’s willful decision not to warn U.S. patients or healthcare providers about the potential for permanent hair loss from taking Taxotere, the patients simply would not have been exposed to these risks. To these victims, their loved ones, and many of us in the legal community, it’s clear that Taxotere is a drug that never should have been on the market.
Some studies have estimated the risk of developing alopecia due to Taxotere is roughly 6 to 10 percent, while research from the U.K. suggests the risk may even be as high as 15 percent for some patients. Whatever the case, the risk to patients is still far greater than it should be.
As if losing the hair from one’s head was not enough, the immune response mechanism of alopecia causes the loss of hair all over the body, including eyebrows, eyelashes, pubic hair, and underarm hair. This fact was never disclosed to the patients, so they never had the opportunity to choose other equally effective anti-cancer drugs.
Since there is no known cure for alopecia, the physical and emotional trauma lasts for a lifetime. Female patients, in particular, suffer from embarrassment, shame, lower self-esteem, and depression. For some women, hair loss can also leave them feeling like they’ve lost something that once played an integral role in their sense of femininity. Permanent hair loss is a painful and constant reminder that cancer patients have been victimized not just once, but twice.
Perhaps the strangest aspect of Sanofi’s trouble with Taxotere is the fact that the risk of alopecia was, in fact, disclosed in other countries where the drug was sold. Only in the U.S. was the issue of permanent hair loss curiously omitted from warnings for years.
As early as 2005, Sanofi had informed the European medical community that their chemotherapy drug could lead to irreversible hair loss. The company’s Canadian labels began including alopecia on its warning labels in 2012. Remarkably, this warning was neither disclosed on drug labels nor mentioned to medical professionals in the U.S. until 2015. That’s right—it took Sanofi a decade to give cancer patients in the United States the same warning they had given in Europe—but why?
The reason for the delayed warning may well be one of corporate greed. The FDA did not approve the marketing of Taxotere’s generic version, Docetaxel, until a year after Sanofi’s patent on the drug expired in 2010. Thus, despite knowing the drug might cause irreversible hair loss, the pharmaceutical company didn’t bother to notify doctors and cancer patients in the United States until much later. By then, it was too late for many of them to prevent the loss.
As a result of the company’s failure to appropriately inform doctors and patients about a risk they very clearly knew existed, thousands of people have come forward to take legal action against Sanofi. In 2017, a large number of cases were consolidated into a single multi-district litigation to be heard by a judge in Louisiana. The first of the MDL’s bellwether trials was initially scheduled for early 2019, but it has since been pushed back to September 2019.
As of November 2018, Sanofi had not yet announced intentions to pay settlements in any of the cases against them. As such, it’s difficult to predict just how large any Taxotere settlements might actually be. As the first few bellwether trials are heard, we will hopefully have better insight into the kinds of settlement amounts we can expect to see.
Saunders & Walker P.A. is currently representing clients in individual lawsuits against Sanofi. Although none of these lawsuits have yet gone to trial, we do expect some settlements to be awarded in the future. If you’ve developed alopecia after taking Taxotere for chemotherapy, you may be able to join our fight and seek damages for the harm that was done to you.
Our personal injury attorneys have years of experience working on complex cases involving medical devices and pharmaceutical products, making us the perfect choice for patients who have suffered harm due to dangerous and mislabeled drugs.
Have you suffered permanent hair loss due to alopecia after taking Taxotere as part of a chemotherapy treatment program? If so, we want to help you hold Sanofi accountable for what they’ve done—and what they’ve failed to do.
To learn more about Taxotere class action lawsuits and MDLs, or to set up a free initial consultation with an expert harmful drug lawyer, contact us online or call (727) 579-4500 today.