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Drug maker Eli Lilly and Co. on Thursday agreed to pay about $700 million to settle a series of lawsuits that the company says are without merit. The 7,000 or so suits claimed that the anti-psychotic drug Zyprexa caused a range of serious health problems, most notably diabetes. While the cases were consolidated in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, the settlement encompasses state and federal claims across the country. They originated in late 2002 with a suit filed by the San Francisco plaintiff firm Hersh & Hersh, said Mark Burton, a partner at the firm. The firm, he said, currently has about 400 Zyprexa plaintiffs. “It’s one of the largest pharmaceutical mass tort settlements ever in this stage of litigation,” Burton added. Relatively little discovery has been conducted in the case, and few witnesses — and no plaintiffs — had been deposed in the federal proceeding. Burton said Eli Lilly will pay $690 million to plaintiffs. Attorney fees will be based on individual agreements between plaintiffs and their lawyers. Burton said the company will also pay about $10 million in administrative costs, a portion of which will go to the 13 firms, including Hersh & Hersh, on the plaintiff steering committee. Plaintiffs can opt into the settlement or continue to pursue their claims in federal or state court. Burton said he expects the deal to settle at least 75 percent of the current claims. While Zyprexa — which is still on the market — is approved to treat schizophrenia and bipolar mania, many of the plaintiffs, Burton said, had been prescribed the drug for “off-label” uses, including treatment for depression, anxiety and dementia. “We always contended that the company did a lot of off-label promotion,” he said. Eli Lilly denies any wrongdoing and said the settlement was just to put a quick end to the cases. “While we believe the claims are without merit, we took this difficult step because we believe it is in the best interest of the company, the patients who depend on this medication and their doctors,” CEO Sidney Taurel said in a press release. “We wanted to reduce significant uncertainties involved in litigating such complex cases.”

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