Via America’s Lawyer: The FDA is again resorting to damage control, now warning the public about Xeljanz, a rheumatoid arthritis drug approved in 2012 that’s been linked to heart disease and cancer. Attorney Sara Papantonio joins Mike Papantonio to explain the dangerous results from recent safety trials. Plus, Johnson & Johnson reserves almost 4 billion dollars to settle tens of thousands of lawsuits over its cancer-causing baby powder. Attorney Stephen Luongo joins Mike Papantonio to update us on litigation filed by customers who were put at risk.


*This transcript was generated by a third-party transcription software company, so please excuse any typos.

Mike Papantonio:             The FDA is again resorting to damage control, now warning the public about another cancer causing drug, that’s been on the market, oh, by the way, since 2012. Well, we’re seeing dangerous results from safety trials, yet the drug still hasn’t been pulled from the pharmacies. It’s still on the market. It’s classic FDA. Joining me to talk about this is Sara Papantonio, Sara you’re handling this case. Tell us about Xeljanz. Lay the 10,000 foot out for us.

Sara Papantonio:              Right. Xeljanz is a drug that suppresses the immune system. What it’s used to, is it’s used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. And what we found is that the drug has been on the market since 2012. For years, we’ve known that it has been related to severe cardiac arrest, major heart conditions, pulmonary embolisms, blood clots. That’s no question. In fact, the FDA just recently issued a black box warning on those conditions. But just a month ago, the FDA came out and said, hey, not only does it cause major cardiac events, it also causes cancer. So it’s just one thing after another with this drug that we’re seeing. It’s just a very dangerous drug that’s on the market right now.

Mike Papantonio:             Yeah. Well, I’ve been following, I’ve been to trial with Pfizer more than most lawyers, all back when you were in grade school, you know, and, and the truth is, it’s always the same MO. And what you see is their influence with the FDA that’s become totally dysfunctional. It’s just a revolving door. Work with the FDA, they go to Mary with the FDA. You know, Mary you’re only making $150,000 start with us and we’ll pay you $700,000 or something ridiculous. It’s the influence and that’s, that’s, clearly I can, when we, when we take the depositions in this case, I promise you, that’s what we’re going to find is some influence there. But they finally got around to the black box. What’s important about the black box? The FDA said, you got to have a black box. They didn’t do it willingly, Pfizer didn’t do it willingly.

Sara Papantonio:              It’s really important that we do talk about this black box warning because oftentimes consumers don’t understand what that little black box on the drug means. What it means without question is this drug is dangerous. If a consumer, if you’re, if you’re going to buy a drug and you see a black box warning on it, it means that is the last step the FDA will take until they rip that drug off the market. So turn the other way, do not take that drug if it has a black box warning on it, because it is seconds, months, you know, very quickly probably going to be taken off the market.

Mike Papantonio:             Yeah. Okay. So you have the FDA, they’ve known all this bad stuff. I mean, they knew about the cardiac events. They knew about DVTs and blood clots, my God, the list is endless. They knew about congestive heart failure related to it. But they say, oh, all you gotta do is put a black box on there. First of all, this isn’t even a product that’s needed. This is like a, this is like a me too product. There are plenty of products that do the same thing here. Right?

Sara Papantonio:              Absolutely. There’s tons of products on the market that can be used to treat many different of arthritis and so my advice to consumers is to avoid this one, because it has been linked to so many problems. You know, we, we’ve been talking about the, the heart complications for years, but now on top of all that it’s cancer. Understand that this is a drug that suppresses the immune system. It opens the flood gates for people to develop cancer left and right and so it is just truly a dangerous drug that needs to be taken off the market.

Mike Papantonio:             Yeah. It’s a class drug. Let’s talk about the class, it’s called, I think it’s JAK, JAK. And what it does is it suppresses the immune system, as you say, and the other, the other things related, related to it are, look, you know what else they’re doing with this drug that we see Pfizer and other drug companies do, this drug wasn’t developed for treatment of ulcerative colitis. But they said, hey, we can make extra money by not only treating arthritis. We can also go and we can sell it for something totally, it’s called off-label, we can sell it for off-label ulcerative colitis. And so all of a sudden, this is a cash cow. These people are going to fight as long as they can to keep it on the market. You agree?

Sara Papantonio:              Absolutely. They’re going to expand every and all opportunities to get this drug on the market, to get it to patients. And that’s like, we’ve seen with this ulcerative colitis, they are expanding the use of this drug to try to make more money. Now, this is, this drug has already made, it makes about a million dollars each year. Since it’s been on the market, it’s made about $7 million, but that’s not enough for Pfizer. No, they have to expand it. They have to make more money. They have to hurt more people in the long run.

Mike Papantonio:             But then there’s Zantac, this is another Pfizer product. You know, the deal on that, pulled off the market. Testosterone products pulled off the market because they were so dangerous. Pradaxa and Xarelto. I mean, at what point does the FDA, we’re dealing with a serial offender here. What do you think?

Sara Papantonio:              Absolutely. I mean, Pfizer is the second largest pharmaceutical company in the world and look at the track record they have. It’s one drug after another being pulled off the market because it’s hurting people, it’s killing people. It is an incredibly dangerous drug. At some point, we have to take a step back and say, what, what good is this company doing? You know, what is this, what are safety precautions?

Mike Papantonio:             Well, we got a, we got a vaccine.

Sara Papantonio:              We got the vaccine.

Mike Papantonio:             Okay. Sara Papantonio, thank you for joining me. Okay.

Mike Papantonio:             Johnson and Johnson has reserved almost $4 billion to settle tens of thousands of lawsuits over cancer causing baby powder. Attorney Steve Luongo joins me to talk about this. Steve, your reaction is the same as mine, $4 billion is not enough. People are dropping like flies from ovarian cancer that this company knew about. They’ve been punished so many times in lawsuits. It’s almost like they’re running into the wall, bashing their head up against the wall, thinking something’s going to change. Nothing’s going to change. These facts don’t change. This is a company that screwed up major and they know it.

Stephen Luongo:               Exactly. And talking about the facts, they’ve known since the seventies, internal documents have shown that the presence of asbestos was in their talcum powder. They didn’t warn the FDA. They didn’t warn their consumers. And here we are, several decades later, women are developing mesothelioma, but primarily that ovarian cancer, which these lawsuits are coming down on and coming down on Johnson and Johnson hard with major verdicts.

Mike Papantonio:             Okay. The significance of mesothelioma is that asbestos is the cause of, of, of mesothelioma. It’s a, what they call a scar based cancer. I’ve tried a lot of these cases. This is the same analysis here. This is a scar based injury that is effecting, effecting women, the ovaries of women. It’s, it’s causing scarring in there and resulting in cancer. Now, they’ve known they had asbestos in their talc for a long time, true?

Stephen Luongo:               Absolutely. Yes, sir. So they’ve known, like I said, the internal documents have shown since the seventies that the, the specialists was present in their documents or in their products rather. As well as studies that have been going on since the seventies, I think the first study came out in 1971 that showed a possible link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer. That study was well known, well published. Documents throughout the eighties and nineties, as well as surveys and studies throughout that time period, showed that they were well aware of the risk of ovarian cancer, as well as the presence of asbestos.

Mike Papantonio:             You did a checklist for me saying the number of times, hit for $100 million, okay. Hit for $30 million. Hit for $4.6 billion. Hit for $25 million. Hit for $37 million. Hit for $417 million. Hit for $110 million. The company, here’s what’s happening, I promise you. The CEO does not want to give it up because it’s going to happen on his or her watch. This is how it happened. You don’t want to make it, you don’t want to pay out the big money on your watch. You want to wait till the next CEO comes along and pay it off. There’s a real ugly story to this side, you know what it is? It is that Wall Street is controlling lawyers who take money from Wall Street. They get loans from organizations like Fortress and you know, the big, the big hedge funds. They’re taking money from those people to where they can’t settle the cases. So it’s both sides, it’s Johnson and Johnson and some of these lawyers who are, who are moneyed up from Wall Street, which should never happen with a plaintiff’s lawyer. What’s your take on that?

Stephen Luongo:               Well, the dam is going to break. We know that last year Johnson and Johnson made some significant moves. We talked about the a hundred million that they set aside, the deal with women and a thousand lawsuits approximately, where asbestos was found there. They’ve also set aside through their financial documents, the four billion that you talked about earlier, and they removed the baby powder with talc entirely from the market back in May of 2022.

Mike Papantonio:             But what happens when Wall Street tells a claimant’s lawyer, okay, you’ve got a thousand cases, you have to hold out for more money, even though it’s a good settlement. That means Wall Street, here’s what I’d recommend. People need to ask their lawyer. Are you taking money from Wall Street? And you as a plant, a claimant’s lawyer, are you taking money from Wall Street? Because if you are it’s Wall Street, making the decisions about whether you should settle the cases or not. These cases should be settled. The trials, one trial after another, they’ve been hammered. The CEO needs to give it up right now and say, look, I’m the guy that maybe has to pay out all the money, but I’ll live with it. Got about 30 seconds. What’s your take?

Stephen Luongo:               Well right now with the litigation and there is the MDL up in New Jersey that has approximately 25,000 cases.

Mike Papantonio:             We are full disclosure, we’re helping to run that MDL.

Stephen Luongo:               We are, we are, and we’re not taking Wall Street money and we’re fighting for them. We’re trying to get the settlements. Obviously we’re looking at that 4.6 million or billion dollar settlement and verdict that came in St. Louis. The final appeal of that hasn’t been determined yet, but that’s definitely a governing factor. Right now, the judge in the MDL, MDL has issued us as well as the opposing side, to go and select the bellwether cases. I think that’s really going to start getting some traction with this case.

Mike Papantonio:             That means, choose the case that you want to go to trial with. When that happens, things start moving.

Stephen Luongo:               Absolutely.

Mike Papantonio:             This company can’t take many more hits. The CEO in charge right now needs to make a very important decision. Do I want this company to stay alive or do I want to be the CEO who puts an end to Johnson and Johnson? Because I’m worried about my exit package. That’s what’s, that’s what’s at stake here. Thank you for joining me, Steve.

Stephen Luongo:               Thank you, sir.

Mike Papantonio is an American attorney and television and radio talk show host. He is past president of The National Trial Lawyers, the most prestigious trial lawyer association in America; and is one of the few living attorneys inducted into the Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame. He hosts the international television show "America's Lawyer"; and co-hosts Ring of Fire Radio, a nationally syndicated weekly radio program, with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Sam Seder.