US drugmaker, Wyeth, has moved a step closer toward settling thousands of lawsuits brought by patients claiming to have suffered heart damage as a result of taking its obesity drugs in the 1990s.

Redux (dexfenfluramine) and Pondimin (fenfluramine) – one half of the notorious ‘fen-phen’ combination treatment – were withdrawn from the market in 1997 after being linked to cases of heart valve damage. Wyeth reached a settlement with a majority of the plaintiffs in 1999, but this has been amended several times as more patients than expected claimed payouts under the scheme.

Yesterday, lawyers acting for the company, and around 11,000 of the 60,000 claimants who opted out of the original settlement, agreed a halt to legal proceedings in order to evaluate a new offer from the company. Wyeth said the settlement could go forward, provided that enough of the opt-out claimants agree. “This is a promising development, but many complex issues remain to be resolved,” said Lawrence Stein, Wyeth’s general counsel.

This motion follows last week’s announcement that Wyeth would support the latest amendment to the 1999 National Diet Drug Settlement, which would create a new claims processing structure for the least serious but most numerous claims in the settlement [[11/01/05b]]. Earlier this month Wyeth said it had already set aside around $16.6 billion dollars for legal costs in the case, and around $3.1 billion of that total remains.