Taxotere, also known by its generic name docetaxel, was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in May of 1996 for treatment of breast cancer. It was heralded as a new prescription for women whose cancer had progressed after initial treatment with doxorubicin, the standard, first-line chemotherapy drug at that time. Taxotere has since been used to treat head and neck, stomach, prostate, and non-small-cell lung cancers.
Despite its benefits, the number of Taxotere lawsuits pending in federal court has more than doubled in 2017, growing to 1,491 as of mid-August 2017. The cases focus on whether the maker of Taxotere, Sanofi-Aventis, adequately warned patients about the risk of permanent hair loss from taking the cancer drug.
Like many chemotherapy drugs, Taxotere may cause hair loss, among other serious side effects. However, while the hair loss from other chemotherapy drugs is typically temporary and results in re-growth after a few months’ time, the hair loss due to Taxotere can often be permanent. Some studies have reported that as many as 9% of subjects experienced hair loss more than 10 years after taking the chemotherapy drug.
Sanofi-Aventis discovered the risk of alopecia, or permanent hair loss, in 2005 and updated the Taxotere warning label to reflect the risk of alopecia in Europe. Alopecia was added to Canada’s warning labeling in 2012, but the United States labeling wasn’t updated to include permanent hair loss until December 2015.
All Taxotere lawsuits filed in the U.S. federal court system have been centralized in the U.S. District Court’s Eastern District of Louisiana. The lawsuits allege that the company intentionally hid the risk to generate higher profits. Sanofi has responded by renewing its call for the federal court to dismiss the complaint in the multidistrict litigation, arguing the patients' complaints "lack factual allegations."