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Poligrip to stop zinc-based formulas after lawsuits

WASHINGTON - The maker of Poligrip denture cream will stop making formulas containing zinc amid lawsuits claiming years of excessive use caused neurological damage and blood problems in consumers, allegedly crippling some.

GlaxoSmithKline will stop making and marketing Super Poligrip Original, Ultra Fresh and Extra Care products in the United States. The London-based company plans to reformulate the creams without zinc.

The company, which reported more than $520 million in denture adhesive sales last year, stressed that the products are safe when used as directed, but some people use extra cream to correct ill-fitting dentures.

Glaxo's voluntary action comes as hundreds of lawsuits are poised to go to trial, alleging Poligrip caused nerve damage, leading to a loss of balance, loss of sensation in the hands and feet, and leaving some patients paralyzed.

"They made the right decision in the sense that it's going to prevent the crippling of more people," said attorney Andy Alonso of Parker Waichman Alonso LLP. "But it's too late for many of my clients."

Alonso represents more than a hundred users of denture cream in federal court in Miami, where several hundred lawsuits are being consolidated. The plaintiffs say the makers of zinc-based creams failed to warn consumers about potential risks.

Alonso estimates about 30 million people in the United States wear dentures and use products like Poligrip.

There are 75 denture cream cases consolidated before U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga, who will decide whether to choose a few for trial that would act as bellwethers for the rest, said plaintiffs' attorney Scott Weinstein. The Glaxo decision would have limited impact because of rules against using a company's actions to fix a problem in suits claiming previous damages, he said.

Lawyers suing Glaxo said the company's decision will put pressure on other makers of zinc-containing denture cream, most notably Procter & Gamble, which makes Fixodent. A spokeswoman for Cincinnati-based P&G said the levels of zinc in Fixodent are about half of what's used in Super Poligrip. Glaxo and P&G also market zinc-free alternatives.

Zinc is believed to help with adhesion. But in 2008 researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas described a possible link between denture cream zinc and nerve damage.

Glaxo and P&G only began disclosing the zinc in their products after the University of Texas' findings were published.