SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A federal judge on Thursday said he will likely reject a request to disqualify a science expert hired by Eli Lilly to debunk claims that Viagra and Cialis cause skin cancer, but questions about the scientist’s credibility still linger.
“I really don’t see here a basis on which to disqualify this particular expert witness,” U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg said in court Thursday.
The legal team representing hundreds of plaintiffs in a multi-district case against two pharmaceutical giants says the scientist, Boris Bastian, had agreed to work with them for $800 per hour before Eli Lilly offered him $1,200 per hour.
“From our perspective, they came and they poached our expert,” attorney Munir Meghjee, of Robins Kaplan in Minneapolis, argued in court Thursday.
The plaintiffs claim they shared confidential information with Bastian about their legal strategy and perspectives on the strengths and weaknesses of scientific evidence supporting their position.
Bastian, a pathology and dermatology professor and director of a clinical cancer genomics lab at the University of California, San Francisco, swore in a signed affidavit that he never had conversations with plaintiffs’ attorneys about legal strategy or scientific evidence.
Bastian said he decided to work for Eli Lilly after reviewing “key scientific literature” and concluding there was no causal link between the erectile dysfunction drugs and melanoma.
Seeborg said he is unlikely to disqualify Bastian’s expert testimony because evidence of a “confidential relationship” between the scientist and plaintiffs’ counsel appears thin. However, the judge added that Bastian’s willingness to work with Eli Lilly for higher pay raises questions about his credibility.
“That suggests to me this expert was available to the highest bidder,” Seeborg said.
Representing Eli Lilly, attorney Michael Imbroscio, of Covington & Burling in Washington D.C., argued that credibility is not an issue judges may consider when deciding whether an expert’s testimony is admissible.
“The trial judge’s obligation is to assess qualifications and methodology,” Imbroscio insisted.
The plaintiffs also suggested it is unfair that Eli Lilly refuses to withdraw Bastian as an expert after they agreed to withdraw one of their experts, Susana Ortiz-Urda, after Eli Lilly raised objections based on her prior work with the company.
“It is fundamentally unfair, as well as disingenuous for Eli Lilly to oppose disqualification of Dr. Bastian given its stated positions in its motion to disqualify Dr. Ortiz-Urda,” the plaintiffs stated in their motion to disqualify Bastian.
The fate of Bastian’s testimony and that of dozens of other scientific experts will be determined at a future evidentiary hearing. Seeborg must decide if the plaintiffs have met their burden in presenting sound scientific evidence of a link between the erectile dysfunction drugs and melanoma that a jury can rely on.
Seeborg said he expects to hold that hearing in or around June 2019.
The multi-district litigation encompasses more than 800 lawsuits filed against Pfizer and Eli Lilly claiming phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5) inhibitors in Viagra and Cialis caused patients to develop skin cancer.