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Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

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Sealed Seroquel documents hearing is Thursday

A closely watched hearing will take place in a federal courtroom in Orlando, Fla., tomorrow [Thursday] over the extent to which AstraZeneca should be forced to divulge internal documents filed in connection with product-liability litigation over its Seroquel antipsychotic. About 6,000 lawsuits have been consolidated and allege the drugmaker failed to adequately disclose that the pill can cause serious weight gain and diabetes.

At issue is whether thousands of pages of material should be unsealed. Typically, numerous documents are sealed at the outset of such litigation under agreements between attorneys for defendants and plaintiffs, in part, to speed along the proceedings. Companies also seek to have documents sealed to avoid publicity, investigations and additional lawsuits.

But earlier this month, Bloomberg News filed a motion to have some of the Seroquel documents unsealed, citing “the public’s right of access to judicial documents.” An AstraZeneca spokesman told BusinessWeek that releasing incomplete information could create a public health risk. However, Bloomberg argued that concerns about health risks are among the very reasons the documents should be unsealed.

Not surprisingly, the controversy is drawing parallels to the litigation over Eli Lilly’s Zyprexa, another antipsychotic linked to serious weight gain and diabetes. However, the Zyprexa lawsuits yielded an unexpected ruckus when David Egilman, a Brown University professor and an expert witness for the plaintiffs, leaked sealed Lilly documents to the media (background here).

Meanwhile, the Seroquel case is generating interest for yet another reason – allegations of sexual impropriety. An AstraZeneca employee, who was responsible for the drug in the United States, allegedly cavorted with a Seroquel researcher in the United Kingdom and a ghostwriter in the United States, according to court documents. You can read more about that here.

Update: AstraZeneca lawyer Stephen McConnell announced at the hear that AstraZeneca would release the documents, according to AmericanLawyer.com.