Zantac didn’t cause 89-year-old woman’s cancer, jury says in first trial over drug

A Chicago jury on Thursday dismissed an Illinois woman’s lawsuit alleging that the now-discontinued heartburn drug Zantac caused her colon cancer, the first of thousands of lawsuits making similar claims to be heard.

A jury in Cook County, Illinois Circuit Court agreed with pharmaceutical companies GSK and Boehringer Ingelheim that the plaintiff, 89-year-old Illinois resident Angela Valadez, had not proven that her colon cancer was caused, at least in part, by her use of Zantac.

Valadez claims her cancer was caused by taking the over-the-counter drug Zantac and its generic equivalents between 1995 and 2014. The lawsuit alleges that the drug’s active ingredient, ranitidine, can turn into a carcinogen called NDMA under certain conditions.

Thousands of lawsuits have made similar claims that the withdrawal of the heartburn drug Zantac caused cancer. Reuters

Valadez’s lawyers had asked the jury to award her $640 million in damages for her suffering, but the judge rejected her request for punitive damages during the trial, her lawyers said.

One of Valadez’s lawyers, Mikal Watts, said he respects the jury’s verdict but is confident the companies will be held accountable in the upcoming Zantac trial. “This is a marathon, not a sprint,” Watts said.

GSK and Boehringer said in statements that the ruling is consistent with scientific evidence that Zantac does not cause cancer and that they will vigorously defend against any future lawsuits.

Britain-based GSK, whose predecessor developed the drug and later sold the brand to others, and German pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim, which sold the drug from 2006 to 2017, are the sole defendants in the trial after other companies settled.

Valadez’s case was the first to go to trial after all other cases previously scheduled for trial had been resolved.

GlaxoSmithKline Headquarters
The jury ruled in favor of the pharmaceutical companies GSK and Boehringer Ingelheim. Reuters

Watts said in the trial, which began May 2, that the companies knew ranitidine could turn into NDMA as it aged or was exposed to extreme temperatures but failed to ensure it was properly handled by transporters, distributors and retailers.

Lawyers for GSK and Boehringer countered that Zantac has repeatedly been proven safe and effective and that there are no scientific or medical studies linking Zantac to cancer.

The company’s lawyers also argued at trial that there was no evidence to support Valadez’s claims that she had been taking Zantac for 18 years and that she had many risk factors that made her more likely to develop colon cancer.

Zantac was first approved in 1983 and by 1988 it had become the world’s best-selling drug and one of the first drugs to exceed $1 billion in annual sales.