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Neb. man sues makers of Rituxan after infection
By TIMBERLY ROSS (AP) – August 12, 2010
OMAHA, Neb. — An Omaha man who contracted an infection that rendered him a quadriplegic after taking the immunosuppressant Rituxan says the drug's makers knew of the risk but didn't warn users right away, according to a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday.
Jesse Peetz, 23, said in court documents that he began taking Rituxan in 2003 for treatment of an autoimmune disorder, but that he hadn't known the drug would make him more susceptible to untreatable infections. In September 2005, he developed a near-fatal viral infection that cost him his motor function.
The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Nebraska claims Genentech Inc. and Biogen Idec were negligent and failed to warn users of Rituxan's dangers until 2007.
Caroline Pecquet, a spokeswoman for South San Francisco, Calif.-based Genentech Inc., said Wednesday that the company is "committed to ethical and legal promotional practices," but declined to comment on the specifics of Peetz's lawsuit.
Pecquet also said 2 million people worldwide have used Rituxan in the 12 years its been on the market.
A message left Wednesday with Cambridge, Mass.-based Biogen Idec wasn't immediately returned.
Rituxan, according to the drug's website, is approved to treat non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, chronic lymphocytic leukemia and rheumatoid arthritis. Its risks include fatal reactions from infusion, kidney failure and serious brain infection.
Peetz was diagnosed with the autoimmune disorder thrombotic thrombocytopenia purpura in 1995, at age 11. According to the lawsuit, by 2003 Genentech and Biogen Idec were marketing Rituxan as an off-label treatment for Peetz' condition, meaning the Food and Drug Administration had not approved it for that use.