Government relieved of responsibility for deaths linked to cancer drug


The Supreme Court on Tuesday relieved the government of responsibility for damages for deaths caused by a side effect of the lung cancer drug Iressa.

The top court decided not to hear an appeal against a Tokyo High Court ruling that found the government bore no responsibility for the deaths from interstitial pneumonia, developed as a side effect by some cancer patients taking the drug.

However, the Supreme Court did decide to receive a portion of the appeal, filed by relatives of patients who have died, seeking damages from the Japanese importer of the drug made by the British drugmaker AstraZeneca PLC.

The court said it would hand down its ruling April 12 and is expected to relieve the importer, AstraZeneka K.K., of liability as well.

Japan in July 2002 became the first country in the world to approve Iressa.

The plaintiffs argued that AstraZeneka failed to provide sufficient explanations about the potential side effect and the government failed to give appropriate administrative guidance to the company regarding such explanations.

In a March 2011 ruling, the Tokyo District Court accepted the plaintiffs’ argument and ordered AstraZeneka and the government to pay damages.

The Tokyo High Court reversed the district court ruling in November 2011.