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Camryn Hansen
Camryn Hansen
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AstraZeneca’s Ongluza: Here to Treat Diabetes Caused by Seroquel.

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It’s beyond fishy that drug giant AstraZeneca has partnered with Bristol-Myers Squibb to create Ongluza, the new diabetes drug that, now armed with FDA approval, stands to become a billion dollar blockbuster, competing directly with Merck’s Januvia.

Just a few months ago, AstraZeneca was in a lot of trouble for burying company documents that linked its popular antipsychotic, Seroquel, to the development of diabetes in patients taking the drug.

Seroquel, which brought in a full 14% of drug maker AstraZeneca’s $31.6 billion in sales last year, is only FDA-approved to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. In the past few years, however, illegal off-label marketing for uses such as depression, insomnia, and childhood ADHD has spread its use 22 million patients, making it one of the best-selling drugs in the world.

More than 15,000 of these 22 million have filed over 9,000 personal injury lawsuits alleging not only that Seroquel caused them to develop diabetes, weight gain and other health problems, but that AstraZeneca knew as early as 2000 of Seroquel’s health risks and deliberately withheld these risks from patients and doctors.

As of July 2009, AstraZeneca had spent nearly $600 million fighting Seroquel-related lawsuits, fully exhausting its insurance coverage for such expenses.

Given the Ongluza development, it appears that AstraZeneca’s strategy will be to continue to market Seroquel for off-label uses to as many Americans as possible, and when this drug gives them diabetes, pay for the lawsuits by selling them some Ongluza to treat it.