(Photo: Waleed A Alzuhair)

The Judicial Panel for Multidistrict Litigation has authorized the transfer of dozens of lawsuits over the diabetes drug Invokana to a New Jersey federal court, centralizing the litigation.

In an order issued Dec. 8, the panel approved the request to centralize the cases in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey by plaintiffs in 29 cases already filed there. In its entirety, the combined litigation consists of 55 cases against drugmaker Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson.

According to its order, the panel expects an additional 44 cases to be filed in New Jersey federal court. The transferred cases come from districts in Minnesota, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Virginia and West Virginia.

The panel said in its order that the cases have enough in common to warrant centralization.

“On the basis of the papers filed and the hearing session held, we find that the Invokana/Invokamet actions involve common questions of fact, and that centralization of these cases will serve the convenience of the parties and witnesses and promote the just and efficient conduct of this litigation,” the panel said. “The actions share factual questions arising from allegations that taking Invokana or Invokamet may result in patients suffering various injuries, including diabetic ketoacidosis and kidney damage. The actions thus implicate numerous common issues concerning the development, manufacture, testing, regulatory history, promotion, and labeling of the drugs.”

The suits all claim that the diabetes drug causes kidney failure and a condition called diabetic ketoacidosis, which is caused by the buildup of acids in the blood.

Along with alleging that defendants Janssen Pharmaceuticals and Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharmaceuticals failed to warn about the potential dangers of the drug and improperly marketed it, the plaintiffs also allege Invokana was defectively designed because it prevents the body from metabolizing excess glucose by directing it to be excreted through the kidneys.

Ellen Relkin of Weitz & Luxenberg, who represents plaintiffs in Invokana cases, said she was disappointed in the panel’s ruling.  

“However, their selection of Judge Martinotti is an excellent choice as Judge Martinotti has extensive experience with effectively managing complex pharmaceutical cases as well as productive coordination with parallel state court litigations,” she said in an email.

She added, “There was a vibrant state court litigation in the Court of Common Pleas which was improvidently removed by defendants. There are also a growing number of California state cases. We are optimistic that our motion for remand filed today will be granted and the Pennsylvania plaintiffs and the MDL plaintiffs can cooperate in representing their respective clients.”

John Q. Lewis of Tucker Ellis, representing the defendants, could not be reached for comment.

A spokesman for the defendant said in an email that, “As the MDL process moves forward, we will continue to vigorously defend against the allegations made in these lawsuits.”

In its order, the panel also said New Jersey was a convenient location to hold the litigation.

“Janssen is headquartered in that district, and many witnesses and relevant documents are likely to be found there,” the panel said. “In addition, 37 of the constituent actions are pending in that district, as are multiple tag-along actions. Finally, centralization in the District of New Jersey allows us to assign the litigation to Judge Brian R. Martinotti, an able and experienced jurist who has not had the opportunity to preside over an MDL.”

Contact the reporter at pdannunzio@alm.com.