(Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM)
The bad blood between Dr. David Healy and GlaxoSmithKline plc brewed up long before the psychiatrist took the stand in a Chicago federal court last week to testify that the pharmaceutical giant hid the risk of suicide in its blockbuster antidepressant Paxil.
Healy’s testimony is the bedrock of a claim brought by the widow of a Reed Smith partner who committed suicide in 2010 while taking a generic version of Paxil. GSK argues that Stewart Dolin’s death was the result of stress from a diminished role at the firm following a 2007 merger. Dolin’s widow, who claims her husband died from an adverse reaction to Paxil, is seeking $12 million from GSK.
All GSK has wanted is for the fast-talking psychiatrist to stop testifying.
Healy, a professor at a British university and a practicing physician in Toronto, has been a thorn in the pharmaceutical giant’s side since about 1999, when he wrote “The Antidepressant Era” and first began raising concerns about GSK’s clinical trials related to antidepressants known as SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. In 2005, The New York Times profiled Healy, noting that he was “internationally known as both a scholar and a pariah.”
“You don’t really know who you can trust,” Healy told the paper.
Healy has been a longtime expert witness in cases against GSK. His all-day direct examination in Chicago last Thursday was followed by a six-hour cross-examination this week. Healy said he had testified in more than 10 cases against GSK, something the company’s lawyers at Dentons and King & Spalding made a spirited effort to prevent in the Dolin case.
Healy’s testimony, for instance, was admitted in a suit in the Southern District of Indiana involving the sister of a priest who committed suicide after taking paroxetine, the trade name for Paxil. That case appears to have settled in 2011. And in 2015, Healy was an author of a new review of clinical Paxil trials on teenagers, which led to headlines that the drug was unsafe for teens.
The heart of Healy’s testimony contends that GSK artificially inflated the number of suicides and suicide attempts committed by members of the placebo group during clinical trials for Paxil. That had the effect of minimizing the risk of suicide associated with the antidepressant, meaning there was no warning of suicide risks on the drug’s label.
In the Dolin case, GSK’s lawyers filed a motion to exclude Healy’s testimony in the Dolin case, writing a 46-page memorandum with 70 attached exhibits arguing that Healy was a financially biased witness with an axe to grind against GSK.
The filing asserts that the lead plaintiff lawyer in the Chicago case, Michael Baum, a senior managing partner of Los Angeles-based Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman, is an investor in a company founded by Healy. That company runs a website, RxISK.org, which GSK’s lawyers said helps promote suits against the pharmaceutical industry. The filing also said Healy’s personal blog showed his bias against GSK, including his purported belief that the company helped get him fired from a previous professor position and may have been behind an investigation that could have led to his medical license being revoked in the U.K.
U.S. District Judge James Zagel ruled that Healy (pictured right) could testify in the Dolin case. But at the trial, presided over by U.S. District Judge William Hart, lawyers could not ask Healy about his blog or his personal relationship with GSK.
King & Spalding life sciences and health care litigation co-chair Andrew Bayman asked Healy if his website was intended to make it easier for the public to file suits and to garner work for himself as an expert. Healy testified that he bills $750 an hour to testify and $400 an hour to review cases.
But as was the case with many of the points that Bayman tried to pin Healy down on, the psychiatrist was prepared with a response to that charge in court Monday.
The website “has nothing to do with supporting lawsuits. This is all about minimizing the problem so there won’t be lawsuits,” Healy said, adding that Baum’s investment in his company, “would probably put him out of business.”
Proceedings in the Dolin case are continuing this week in Chicago. Some of his former Reed Smith partners are expected to take the stand.