Glaxo faces threat of UK class action over Seroxat

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The Independent Online

Lawyers acting for 1,700 people in the UK have issued a pre-action letter of claim against GlaxoSmithKline alleging serious side-effects have been suffered by their clients taking one of its best-selling drugs, the anti-depressant Seroxat.

Lawyers acting for 1,700 people in the UK have issued a pre-action letter of claim against GlaxoSmithKline alleging serious side-effects have been suffered by their clients taking one of its best-selling drugs, the anti-depressant Seroxat.

The legal case, which is being spearheaded by Mark Harvey, a partner at Hugh James Solicitors, represents an escalation of the challenges facing the drug.

Already, concerns over the addictive properties of Seroxat have led the UK Government to ban its prescription to people under the age of 18.

On Monday, the UK's Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency is expected to tighten up guidelines in the use of anti-depressants after a major safety review.

The drug is also facing challenges in the US, where it is marketed as Paxil. Regulators there want its labelling changed to highlight the risk factors more fully, while lawyers are looking to claim compensation on behalf of clients.

Mr Harvey says his 1,700 clients are of different age groups and were selected from about 4,000 people who contacted the firm with complaints about the drug. "We have screened the complainants carefully so as to include only those whose symptoms we strongly feel have been brought on by the use of the drug," he said.

Mr Harvey is bringing the claim under the Consumer Protection Act 1987. The claimants allege withdrawal problems and/or aggression and/or suicidal acts. Mr Harvey thinks the case will take at least two years to get to trial. Funding comes from a mixture of public funds and from legal insurance policies.

Mr Harvey says he has never called for Seroxat to be withdrawn. "It's a question of proper, informed choice. If doctors and patients are told the risks involved they can make an informed choice about whether to use the drug or not."

Mr Harvey said he could not say what scale of damages he would be looking for.

A statement from Hugh James Solicitors notes that a World Health Organisation league table of the drugs that cause withdrawal difficulties puts Seroxat at the top, with twice as many reports as the next highest entry.

GlaxoSmithKline said yesterday it had received a letter of claim from Hugh James Solicitors on Thursday and it was considering it in detail.

The pharmaceuticals giant's chief executive Jean-Pierre Garnier has spoken recently about the need to speed the development of other drugs, especially of a cervical cancer vaccine that he feels could be a blockbuster, because of safety concerns with other drugs.

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