A BOSTON GLOBE EDITORIAL
The Prozac Question
Eli Lilly, manufacturer of the highly successful antidepressant drug Prozac,
wants to have it both ways. While it has always insisted that the drug does
not cause even a tiny percentage of its users to contemplate suicide, it also
wants to sell an updated version of Prozac with a patent which states
specifically that one of its advantages over the original is that it is less
likely to cause suicidal thoughts.
Now the firm has been caught in this contradiction by a Houston lawyer whose
clients unsuccessfully sued Lilly after their father killed his wife and then
himself while on the drug. By the time of the trial last year, Lilly had
bought rights to the new patent, boasting of its superiority over Lilly’s
original Prozac, whose patents expire in 2004.
The lawyer says his clients would have gotten a fairer trial if Lilly had
come forward with that language, and he is now asking a federal court for a
new trial. His clients deserve that chance, and the Food and Drug
Administration should ask Lilly why, in light of the language in its new
patent, it is not warning current Prozac users about suicidal thoughts.
Even if it had been aware of the new patent language, the jury might still
have exonerated the drug manufacturer. Prozac is hailed by many health
professionals for treating often debilitating depression and actually
preventing suicides. And while a small percentage of Prozac users have
committed suicide, it is not easy to prove that it was the drug and not the
underlying illness that was the cause.
Lilly, for its part, notes that a separate company developed the new version
of Prozac and wrote the patent language for it before Lilly acquired the
patent. And Lilly says ”not all of the `side effects’ listed in the patent
are scientifically demonstrated facts.” But why should a patent have been
issued for a new version of Prozac if it does not reduce side effects like
The FDA should reopen the question of whether the patent language on the new
Prozac is not a warning that users and prescribers of the original Prozac
should have been receiving all along. The patent’s message should also be
conveyed to a jury in a second trial of the Houston lawyer’s case.
This story ran on page A26 of the Boston Globe on 6/13/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.