A Pennsylvanian judge has approved the proposed amendment to the diet drug litigation brought by patients claiming to have suffered heart damage as a result of taking Wyeth’s obesity drugs in the 1990s, which will entitle the least serious claims to a share of a $1.275 billion dollar fund.

Wyeth is facing an overwhelming tide of lawsuits following the global withdrawal in 1997 of its anti-obesity drugs Pondimin (fenfluramine) and Redux (dexfenfluramine). The firm reached a national settlement in 1999, entitling patients to compensation, but said that the ability to provide compensation to legitimate claimants had been “seriously compromised by an avalanche of questionable claims” [[06/05/04e]].

The amendment, which is still subject to appeal, would create a new claims processing structure, funding arrangement and payment schedule for the least serious but most numerous claims in the settlement [[06/05/04e]]. Claimants that pass a medical review will be entitled to a pro rata share of the $1.275 billion pot. Wyeth says that the amendment ensures that these claims are processed on a streamlined basis, while preserving funds in an existing trust for more serious claims.

“This is another important milestone,” said Lawrence Stein, Wyeth’s senior vice president and general counsel. “Although the proposed amendment is still subject to appeal, we are encouraged by [the] and agree that this amendment is ‘fair, adequate and reasonable’.”

- Meanwhile, Wyeth and Amgen were disappointed yesterday after a US appeals court reversed an earlier ruling, sending a case claiming that the firms’ multi-million dollar arthritis drug, Enbrel (etanercept), infringes a patent owned by Israel Bio-Engineering Project, back to a lower court.

In a statement, Wyeth said that it believes that the appeals court ruling deals with “a very preliminary issue” and that the patent in question in this case is not relevant to Enbrel.