One of the most despicable things about Big Pharma is when they know that a drug or medical device could cause a terrible health complication, and yet they fail to warn patients of this potentially life-changing problem. This is what’s happening in a current trial involving 68-year-old Arkansas resident Marilyn Stube. She took Xeljanz for four years to help her rheumatoid arthritis and ended up having both arms and legs amputated due to sepsis. Pfizer, the makers of Xeljanz, knew the risks but chose not to warn U.S. patients. 

Xeljanz and Risk of Amputation: What You Need to Know
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What is Xeljanz?

Xeljanz is a relatively new medication that was introduced to the market in 2012 to address rheumatoid arthritis (RA). There are a variety of drug options available for RA, but Xeljanz works in a different way because it “is an anti-JAK, or Janus kinase inhibitor, which targets a specific cellular process that is involved in the immune response and resulting inflammation in RA. Xeljanz is the first drug of its kind,” explains Healthline. 

Xeljanz was intended to be prescribed for patients who didn’t respond to the existing drug options available for RA. However, while all medications have a risk of specific adverse effects, Xeljanz was found to have the potential to cause more serious risks that caused many doctors to decline to prescribe it to their patients.

Warning Signs

When Xeljanz was first approved to be sold in the U.S. by the FDA, the European Medicines Agency, Europe’s version of the FDA, rejected it. The European authorities deemed that this medication came with higher risks than the other available RA drugs on the market. Some of these complications could include severe infections, liver damage, gastrointestinal bleeding, increased blood pressure and cholesterol, and an increased risk of cancer. And it doesn’t just have the basic warnings that are spoken really fast at the end of a television commercial; Xeljanz has a black box warning – the highest warning given by the FDA – about how it can hinder the immune system causing major infections.

Hiding the Facts

If these dangerous complications weren’t scary enough, Pfizer failed to tell U.S. patients about the possibility of sepsis, a potentially fatal condition in which the patient is fighting a severe infection that has spread throughout the body. If a patient becomes ‘septic,’ they will likely have low blood pressure leading to poor circulation which can harm vital tissues and organs.

This is what happened in the case of Marilyn Stube. “After taking Xeljanz for four years for her rheumatoid arthritis, she started feeling pain, then fever, nausea and other symptoms in March 2017. In April of that year, she was diagnosed with septic shock, multi-organ failure, gangrene and Group A Streptococcus, requiring that she have both arms and both legs amputated at Baylor University Medical Center,” according to the complaint filed in the Western District of Arkansas.

On Xeljanz’s labels outside the U.S., they warn of the potential for sepsis which clearly shows that the company knew about the risk and hid this important fact from the American public. According to Law360, “Stube’s physician has signed a sworn declaration that he would never have prescribed Xeljanz for her if he’d known of the risk of sepsis and other ailments, saying he was relying on Pfizer’s product literature in deciding what medication was safest for Stube’s treatment.”

If you or a loved one are taking Xeljanz, it’s important to discuss the benefits and risks of your unique situation with a medical professional to determine the best medication for your condition. It’s also critical to know the potential adverse effects of each medication that you are taking so that you can know the warning signs; the quicker you can get medical care, the more likely you are to avoid severe complications.

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Sources
“Pfizer Hid Risks Of Sepsis, Amputation On Labels, Suit Says”. Law360. Accessed July 24, 2019. https://www.law360.com/articles/1179862/pfizer-hid-risks-of-sepsis-amputation-on-labels-suit-says
“Another Look At Marketing Vs. R&D In Pharma”. Science Magazine. Accessed July 24, 2019. https://blogs.sciencemag.org/pipeline/archives/2013/05/23/another_look_at_marketing_vs_rd_in_pharma
“Xeljanz: A Blessing or a Curse for Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients?”. Heathline. Accessed July 25, 2019. https://www.healthline.com/health-news/xeljanz-blessing-or-curse-for-ra-patients-100414#1
“Why was this RA med declared safe here, but not in the EU?”. Health Science Institute. Accessed July 25, 2019. https://hsionline.com/2014/08/18/european-medicines-agency/