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UK families face court fight over GSK diabetes drug

LONDON (Reuters) - British families seeking compensation for damage caused by GlaxoSmithKline's now-withdrawn diabetes drug Avandia face a lengthy court battle, despite the company agreeing to settle similar U.S. cases.

Manchester-based law firm Express Solicitors said on Wednesday it had commenced high court proceedings in four cases against GSK over the way it developed and marketed Avandia.

The law firm, which has a further 15 cases on its books, said it believed it was the first to commence proceedings against the drugmaker over Avandia in British courts.

European authorities decided to pull Avandia from the market in September 2010 after it was linked to increased heart risks. It is still approved for a limited number of patients in the United States.

In the wake of the safety scandal, GSK paid hundreds of millions of dollars to settle litigation over Avandia in the United States.

In Britain, however, where the legal system has historically seen smaller compensation payments, it is planning a fight.

Express said GSK had indicated to the court it was ready to spend 600,000 pounds ($945,000) defending one of the cases, despite the fact the actual claim was worth a fraction of this amount.

"Even though a settlement was reached in the U.S. to settle lawsuits, it seems GSK wishes to put up a fight in the UK as indicated in correspondence pre-proceedings," Express lawyer Daniel Slade said.

Avandia was first introduced into Britain in 2000 for people with type 2 diabetes who no longer responded adequately to older diabetes medicines. Express said many thousands of patients took the drug and many families could be eligible for compensation for death or harm caused to a relative.

"We have every sympathy for people with health complications associated with diabetes and those who care for them. Unfortunately, we are unable to comment on individual legal cases," a GSK spokesman said.

"We continue to believe that the company acted appropriately and responsibly in its management of Avandia."

(Reporting by Ben Hirschler; Editing by Dan Lalor)

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