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Bayer, J&J fight calls to unify suits

Johnson & Johnson and Bayer are fighting calls to consolidate lawsuits over Xarelto, an anticoagulant drug that has been blamed in the bleeding deaths of 65 patients.

Johnson & Johnson and Bayer are fighting calls to consolidate lawsuits over Xarelto, an anticoagulant drug that has been blamed in the bleeding deaths of 65 patients.

Bayer produces the drug. J&J, which has major operations in the Philadelphia region, owns U.S. rights to the blood thinner.

Patients who took Xarelto, which has no antidote, and other plaintiffs in the lawsuits accuse the drugmakers of downplaying the medicine's bleeding risks and asked that the cases be gathered before U.S District Judge David Herndon in East St. Louis, Ill., for pretrial information exchanges, according to court filings.

Collecting the suits before a single judge could benefit both sides by saving time and money. The judge would oversee the collection of documents and testimony about the drug's development and performance to help attorneys prepare for trial.

Some lawyers for former Xarelto users and their families have asked a panel of federal judges in Charleston, S.C., to send Herndon 50 cases filed so far in 15 federal courts.

The push to consolidate the Xarelto cases follows a $650 million settlement of similar claims over Boehringer Ingelheim's blood thinner Pradaxa. Researchers linked Pradaxa to more than 500 users' deaths, and the company wound up resolving more than 4,000 suits.

Herndon presided over the consolidation of the Pradaxa lawsuits and the accord.

"If you have a judge already familiar with these blood-thinner suits, the cause of efficiency would be better served by sending the cases to him," said Carl Tobias, who teaches product-liability law at the University of Richmond.

In a statement, Chris Loder, a U.S.-based spokesman for Bayer, said, "We stand behind our product and will defend ourselves in the litigation."

Kristina Chang, a J&J spokeswoman, said that after three years on the U.S. market, "the benefit-risk profile of Xarelto remains favorable and consistent with the clinical trials."

"All anticoagulants carry the risk of bleeding, and the prescribing information for Xarelto has always warned of these risks," she said.

Xarelto's U.S. sales generated $414 million for J&J in the third quarter. Bayer's sales in other markets generated $522.5 million over the same period, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

In court filings, the companies urged the judicial panel to rebuff the request to consolidate the Xarelto cases. If a consolidation is granted, however, J&J and Bayer want the case sent to a New Jersey federal court near their U.S. corporate offices. Bayer noted U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson in Trenton now is presiding over two cases.

U.S. regulators originally approved Xarelto in 2011 to prevent blood clots in patients undergoing knee and hip surgeries. Its use has been extended to patients with irregular heartbeats and potentially deadly leg and lung blood clots. In 2013, regulators rejected a request to expand use of the drug to heart-surgery patients.

Xarelto and Pradaxa belong to a class of drugs known as new oral anticoagulants, intended to replace Bristol-Myers Squibb's Coumadin, widely used since the 1960s.