First Zantac cancer risk trial in Calif. postponed five months

FILE PHOTO: Zantac heartburn pills are seen in this picture illustration

By Brendan Pierson

(Reuters) -The first scheduled trial over claims that GSK Plc's heartburn drug Zantac caused cancer, which had been set to begin Monday, has been postponed by five months.

The case, brought by California resident James Goetz in Alameda County Superior Court, is now expected to go to trial July 24, according to a spokesperson for GSK.

Goetz alleges he developed bladder cancer from taking Zantac, and his case will offer an early test of how Zantac cancer claims may fare in state courts.

A federal judge in December threw out all of the Zantac cases in federal court, some 50,000, after finding the opinions of the plaintiffs' expert witnesses linking Zantac to cancer were not backed by sound science.

Tens of thousands of cases still remain in state courts, many consolidated before Judge Evelio Grillo in Alameda. Grillo is currently considering what expert testimony to allow in Goetz's trial.

Zantac, first approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration in 1983, became the world's best selling medicine in 1988 and one of the first drugs to top $1 billion in annual sales.

Originally marketed by a forerunner of GSK, it was later sold successively to Pfizer Inc, Boehringer Ingelheim and finally Sanofi SA. All four drugmakers are facing Zantac lawsuits and have denied the pill causes cancer.

In 2019, some manufacturers and pharmacies halted sales of the drug over concerns that its active ingredient, ranitidine, degraded over time to form a chemical called NDMA. While NDMA is found in low levels in food and water, it is known to cause cancer in larger amounts.

The FDA in 2020 pulled all remaining brand name Zantac and generic versions off the market, triggering a wave of lawsuits.

(Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York, Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Lincoln Feast)