Thursday, June 20, 2019

Is Calif. too liberal to try Roundup cancer cases?

Maker of weed-killer Roundup gets change-of-venue win in cases that contend product causes disease

A federal court judge in San Francisco has handed Monsanto a big victory in its bid to ward off large money verdicts in trials alleging that its Roundup weed-killer causes cancer.

According to a recent online Courthouse News Service story by Helen Christophi, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria is giving the agribusiness a chance to pick the venue of upcoming trials.

Monsanto, which is owned by Bayer AG, had sought to have the trials take place "in agricultural states where farmers heavily depend on the company's glyphosate-based herbicides Roundup and Ranger Pro, and where medical-causation laws favor the defendants," the article explains. 

Chhabria oversees nationwide litigation over the product.
Brian Stekloff
Monsanto was represented by Brian Stekloff of the Washington, D.C., law firm Wilkinson Walsh Eskovitz, who admitted that the company was looking to try the cases in states more favorable to his clients than liberal California.

Aimee Wagstaff of the Colorado law firm Andrus Wagstaff has been representing the plaintiffs.

The judge's ruling followed Monsanto losing three trials in a row in California courts in which plaintiffs testified that they developed non-Hodgkin's lymphoma after using Roundup.

The World Health Organization's cancer agency in 2015 had declared the weed-killer's main ingredient, glyphosate, a probable human carcinogen.

Chhabria also postponed the next bellwether case until Feb. 10 of next year. It had been scheduled to start this month.

More information on litigation regarding products that may cause disease can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

Monday, June 10, 2019

FDA finds bodies are absorbing chemicals

Stop your worrying — a new study indicates you can keep smearing on sunscreens to prevent skin cancer 

Worries about skin cancer should supersede concerns about absorbing sunscreen into the bloodstream.
Dr. Aaron E. Carroll

At least that's the conclusion of a new study reported online today by Dr. Aaron E. Carroll in The New York Times.

Skin cancer, the article says, "is the most common malignancy in the United States, affecting more than three million people each year."

But sunscreens, it asserts, "are a key component of preventing skin damage that can lead to skin cancer." 

Carroll, a professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine who notes that recommendations against UV exposure "apply to everyone," suggests some folks who want to be extra safe switch to sunscreens that contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide — inorganic compounds that aren't absorbed into the body but sit on the skin reflecting or absorbing the sun's harmful rays.

But even using sunscreens without those two components are unlikely to put you in peril.

The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) study, published in JAMA, tested  24 healthy people. It found that continued use of sunscreens did lead to an accumulation of potentially dangerous chemicals in the body — avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrlene and ecamsule.

More information about scientific research into consumer products can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Roundup maker fights 'liberal standard,' damages

Monsanto asks federal court to shift venue of Roundup cancer suits from California and its 'media bias'

Monsanto want the federal Roundup cancer lawsuits moved out of California, claiming, among other things, that the state's media is biased against the company.

According to a San Francisco Chronicle story by Bob Egelko yesterday, the agrichemical giant says California has "plaintiff-friendly laws and 'highly prejudicial coverage' in news media."

Shades of Donald Trump screeching about bias and fake news.

The Monsanto request — in which the company cites Proposition 65, a 1986 ballot measure authorizing state health officials to declare that chemicals and other products pose a risk of cancer or birth defects — came after three verdicts by San Francisco Bay Area juries awarded huge damages to cancer victims who used the company's herbicides.

The agribusiness has asked that the next federal cases be shifted to Nebraska and North Carolina, where some other plaintiffs live.

Ironically, the next trial is slated Aug. 19 in County Circuit Court in St. Louis, Monsanto's hometown, where, an online story by Carey Gillam in Environmental Health News indicates, "corporate officials can be forced to appear on the witness stand, and legal precedence shows a history of anti-corporate judgments."

Aimee Wagstaff
Aimee Wagstaff, who was co-lead counsel for Edwin Hardeman, a Sonoma County, California, man who was awarded $80 million in damages, will also be co-counsel in the Missouri case filed by Sharlean Gordon, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma after 15 years of using Roundup.

Wagstaff, Gillam's story says, "plans to subpoena several Monsanto scientists to appear on the witness stand to answer questions directly in front of a jury. She and the other attorneys trying the California cases were not able to force Monsanto employees to testify live because of the distance. The law provides that witnesses cannot be compelled to travel more than 100 miles or out of state from where they live or work."

Egelko's piece notes that of "more than 3,000 pending lawsuits nationwide by users of Roundup and other Monsanto weed killers, about 1,300 federal suits have been consolidated before U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria of San Francisco," who'd presided over the first federal trial in March.

The International Association for Research on Cancer, an arm of the World Health Organization, has classified Roundup's active ingredient, glyphosate, as a probable cause of cancer in humans — although it isn't listed "as hazardous by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or regulatory agencies in other countries," the Chronicle article asserts.

California, not incidentally, "listed glyphosate as a cancer-causing substance in 2017, although a federal judge later stopped the state from requiring Monsanto to post warning labels on the product."

The company's attorneys, the article also reports, claim California law "allows juries to find that a product is a 'substantial factor' of an illness, a more liberal standard than in other states; makes it easer than other states to qualify witnesses as experts; and, unlike some states, has no limits on damages for emotional distress or punitive damages."

The lawyers also contend that "California's pool of prospective jurors is tainted by the extensive and highly prejudicial coverage in local, state and national news media of the prior three California verdicts."

The judgments against Monsanto, after lawyers for cancer victims had argued that the company had "unduly influenced the EPA," Egelko adds, have included "$289 million by a San Francisco jury for a Benicia school groundskeeper, later reduced by a judge to $78.5 million; $80 million by a jury in Chhabia's court for [Hardeman], and more than $2 billion, mostly in punitive damages, by an Oakland jury for a Livermore couple."

Monsanto, which was purchased by Bayer AG last June, a German pharmaceutical company, is appealing all three verdicts, after which the stock prices of Bayer dipped to their lowest level in seven years, erasing more than 40 percent of their market value.

More information on lawsuits stemming from chemicals can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Minorities feel cast aside by health system

Black women's fatality rate from breast cancer greatly exceeds that of whites, HuffPost story says

Black women are 40% more likely to die of breast cancer than whites, especially in the South.

That was the conclusion of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to a recent story by Max Blau on the HuffPost website.

"Louisiana and Mississippi have the highest racial disparities in breast cancer mortality," Blau's piece quotes the American Cancer Society, with the excess death rate among black women being more than 60%.

But Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee all have rates above 40%.

One reason, the HuffPost article says, "is that researchers haven't developed advanced treatments for a series of aggressive [and hard to treat] tumors — known as triple-negative breast cancer — that black women are more likely to get. Another is that recent advancements in cancer therapies for other kinds of tumors have yet to be fully proven in minorities, in part because of the lack of diversity in…clinical trials."

Moreover, the story contends, "black women have described feeling cast aside by a health system of doctors, nurses and support groups that rarely look like them; and face further obstacles outside labs and hospitals — including lack of access to jobs, transit and health insurance. This marginalization of black women is especially prevalent in the South."

Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice
Blau quotes Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice, president and dean of the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, as expressing the hope that "we move beyond the disparities and put our dollars toward solutions that not only close the gaps but lead to healing equity."

The writer also notes that, at the 2019 American Association for Cancer Research's annual conference, Dr. Shafiq Khan, a biological sciences professor at Clark Atlanta University, maintained that "treatments developed and approved are disproportionately tested on white people."

More information on triple-negative research can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Agribusiness giant to appeal cancer decisions

Oakland jury hits Monsanto with a $2 billion verdict because Roundup weedkiller caused lymphoma

Although an Oakland jury awarded a couple more than $2 billion this week in their suit claiming a Monsanto weedkiller caused their cancer, the verdict is expected to be severely trimmed.

The large punitive damages, in the third consecutive trial that ruled against Bayer AG's glyphosate-based Roundup since August, "is likely to be reduced due to U.S. Supreme Court rulings that limit the ratio of punitive to compensatory damages to 9:1," according to a story by Tina Bellon of Reuters.
Alberta and Alva Pilliod. Photo courtesy
Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman

The jury in this case awarded only $55 million in compensatory damages to Alva and Alberta Pilliod, both of whom had contracted non-Hodgkin's lymphoma after using the weedkiller between 1975 and 2011.

Each were awarded $1 billion in punitive damages. 

The Reuters story reports that Alva was awarded $18 million in compensatory damages by the state court jury in Alameda, California; Alberta, his wife, $37 million — because Roundup purportedly was "defectively designed, that the company failed to warn of the herbicide's cancer risk and that the company acted negligently"

Bayer, which faces more than 13,400 U.S. lawsuits over Roundup's alleged cancer risk, had acquired the agribusiness giant Monsanto for $63 billion last year. An appeal is planned.

The Reuters story notes that Alberta Pilliod "called on Bayer to add a warning label to Roundup, saying she and her husband would not have used the product had it alerted them to a chance of risk. 'We've been fighting cancer for more than nine years now and we can't do any of the things we wanted to do. We really resent Monsanto for that,' Pilliod said."

The two prior San Francisco jury verdicts against Monsanto triggered steep declines in shares of Bayer; this decision is likely to cause a further dip. The earlier litigation wiped out some $33 billion from Bayer's market value.

The next suit to be adjudicated will be in Missouri state court in August, the first time a jury outside of California will hear a Roundup case. The trial will take place in St. Louis County, where Monsanto’s former headquarters are located. 

Lawsuits against the company so far have been based on the 2015 conclusion by the World Health Organization's cancer arm that classified glyphosate as "probably carcinogen to humans."

More information on verdicts in cases against manufacturers can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer,"4 a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Feds ignore complaints, fears of many women

FDA declines to ban breast implant that's linked to cancer but intends to increase information about risks

The FDA has decided not to ban a type of breast implant linked to a rare cancer — at least for now.

According to a story by Laurie McKinley in last week's editions of The Washington Post, the decision, which came a month after a dramatic hearing in which many women expressed fears, complained about the implants and called on the Food and Drug Administration to execute such a ban, the agency plans instead to "increase efforts to collect and disseminate information about risks involving the device."

A joint statement by Amy Abernethy, FDA principal deputy commissioner, and Jeff Shuren, director of the agency's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, maintains that the FDA doesn't believe the textured implant "meets the legal standard for being banned at this time, based on available data and information."

Other countries have either banned or restricted sales of similar products "because of concerns about what's called breast implant-associated anapestic large cell lymphoma, or BIA-ALCL," McKinley's story contends.

The FDA also notes that "while textured implants make up as much as 80 percent of the market share in some other countries, they represent only 10 percent or less of the implants sold in this country," the Post article continues.

Federal officials also say they don't have "definitive evidence" demonstrating that the implants cause  "'breast implant illness,' a constellation of auto-immune problems that includes joint and muscle pain and allergies and fatigue — a topic that was repeatedly raised at the March hearing." But they do add, according to McKinley's piece, that evidence supports "that some women experience systemic symptoms that may resolve when their breast implants are removed."

Diana Zukerman, PhD
That admission has led Diana Zukerman, a PhD and president of the National Center for Health Research, to claim it's "the closest the FDA has come to acknowledging breast implant illness," which, she insists, is "definitely progress."

Historically, the agency tends to be reluctant to ban devices — having done so only twice, with powdered surgeons' gloves and prosthetic hair fibers.

The FDA has, however, "said it is considering requiring implants to carry what's called a boxed warning — the agency's strongest safety warning. And it may require doctors and patients to sign checklists of risks to make sure women have the necessary information to make an informed decision."

McKinley's story states that "bout 400,000 women a year get implants in the United States — 75 percent for cosmetic reasons and most of the rest for breast reconstruction about cancer surgery."

For more information on implants and reconstruction, check out "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Benzene found to cause lymphoma, leukemia

Jury awards $21.4 million in two cancer deaths against oil company that merged with Chevron 

A San Francisco Bay Area jury has awarded $21.4 million in the cancer deaths of two brothers who'd handled a deadly chemical.

The Contra Costa County Superior Court found Union Oil responsible for the deaths of Gary and Randy Eaves, who'd worked in a Texarkana, Arkansas, tire-manufacturing plant. 

Union Oil made the rubber solvent containing benzene, which the brothers were exposed to during their longtime employment.

Gary was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2013 at age 59, and Randy was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia in 2016, also at age 59.

The trial lasted more than four weeks; jury deliberation's took three days.
Attorney Mary Alexander
According to a statement by a San Francisco lawyer for the families of the brothers, Mary Alexander, "This oil company has been held accountable for their negligence in putting profits before people. This tremendous verdict will help ensure protection consumers as it sends a message that any company that fails to warn about toxic chemicals in the products they sell, such as benzene which causes cancer, will be held responsible."

The plaintiffs had alleged that the company knew the solvents contained benzene and "knew, or should have known, that exposure to it was extremely hazardous and cancer-causing," Alexander wrote.

The trial, according to a recent story by Lauren Hernandez in the San Francisco Chronicle, "was held in Contra Costa County because Chevron — which merged with Unocal, formerly known as Union Oil — headquartered in San Ramon," which is located in that county.

According to the lawyer, Hernandez's article notes, "the chemical sprayed onto [the brothers'] unprotected skin while handling the solvent…and Union Oil never told the plant or its workers to wear respirators or protective clothing, and never advised workers to handle the chemical inside of a ventilation booth."

In addition, Alexander was quoted as saying, "They did not ship the solvent with material safety data sheets or any other data that reflected the solvent contained benzene that cause cancer."

Chevron, the story says, "provide a one-sentence statement to The Chronicle in response to the decision, stating, 'We do not believe the Unocal had any role in the claimed injuries and we are evaluating the jury's decision and the court's rulings in this matter."

The newspaper's story said that Eaves families, who live in Arkansas, stayed in the Bay Area throughout the trial.

It also reported that Alexander "said Union Oil representatives are responsible for paying the $21.4 million bill as the primary defendant in the case, despite it technically not existing anymore."

Chevron paid Union Oil's trial costs, she said.

Details of other corporations being responsible for disease-related deaths can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Medicare coverage of costly drug being debated

Will Trump administration drop the restrictions on new type of blood cancer treatment? Stay tuned!

Will insurance companies be able to block expanded Medicare coverage of cancer care?

The answer is a positive maybe.

According to a story last week by by Robert Pear in The New York Times, insurers are pushing to keep existing restrictions against an expensive new type of treatment, CAR-T cell therapy. 

"Cancer patients, doctors and drug companies are urging the Trump administration to remove the restrictions," the story says.

The restrictions are intended to hold down costs of the treatment, which Pear explains "is manufactured specifically for each patient." 

Many more "such 'personalized medicines' are in the pipeline," he adds.

Medicare's final decision is expected in the next few weeks. 

According to the Times, the federal "Food and Drug Administration has approved two CAR-T products to treat certain blood cancers: Kymriah, made by Novartis, with a list price of $375,000 or $475,000, depending on the type of cancer, and Yescarta, made by Gilead Sciences, with a list price of $373,000."

Although CAR-T treatments "generate high costs up front…the benefits could last for years," Pear contends.

The treatments, he notes, "have been remarkably effective in some patients who had a dismal prognosis after exhausting other options."

Dr. Francis S. Collins
Pear's story quotes Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, as saying that "harnessing the power of a patient's immune system in this way was a 'marvel of modern medicine."

And Pear attributes to Kirsten A. Sloan, vice president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the notion of favoring people having access to the treatment and letting "the doctor decide which patients should be eligible."

In CAR-T therapy, immune- or T-cells are removed from a patient's blood, sent to a lab to be "genetically engineered  to recognize and attack cancer cells, and then sent back to the hospital for infusion into the patient."

The problem is the over-all cost: The infusion, doctors' fees and hospital stays can add up to $750,000 or more.

A statement from one of the nation's largest insurers, UnitedHealth Group, expresses concern that CAR-T therapies could create significant financial risks for both the government and private Medicare Advantage plans.

More information about controversies over new treatments or drugs can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.