Pfizer Loses Bid to Have $9.4 Million Prempro Drug Verdict Thrown Out

Pfizer Inc. lost a bid to have a judge throw out a $9.4 million jury award to an Alabama woman who developed breast cancer after taking the company’s menopause drugs.

A state-court judge in Philadelphia denied requests by Pfizer’s Wyeth unit to set aside the award to Audrey Singleton or reduce the $6 million in punitive damages jurors awarded over her use of the drugmaker’s hormone-replacement medicines. Singleton’s lawyers alleged the company hid the drugs’ health risks.

The judge’s ruling “validates the jury system and confirms that this community is outraged by Wyeth’s conduct,” Zoe Littlepage, one of Singleton’s lawyers, said in an interview today.

More than 6 million women have taken hormone-replacement medicines to treat menopause symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats and mood swings. Until 1995, many patients combined Premarin, an estrogen-based drug made by Wyeth, with progestin- laden Provera, made by another Pfizer unit. Wyeth combined the two hormones in its Prempro medicine.

“While we are disappointed in the trial court’s ruling, it clears the way for the company to appeal this decision,” Pfizer spokesman Chris Loder said today in an e-mailed statement. “We stand by our belief that there is no basis in fact or law for the jury’s verdict.”

Pfizer faces more than 8,000 lawsuits over the menopause medicines, which are still on the market. New York-based Pfizer, the world’s largest drugmaker, completed its $68 billion purchase of Wyeth last year.

Litigation Record

Wyeth has lost seven of the 11 Prempro cases that have been considered by jurors since the cases began going to trial in 2006. The company has persuaded judges to throw out some of those verdicts at the post-trial stage and reduce awards in others.

Singleton, a retired school-bus driver from Chatom, Alabama, began taking Prempro in August 1997. A mammogram at that time was normal, her lawyers said during the trial. She stopped taking the drug in January 2004 after her breast cancer diagnosis.

The woman’s lawyers argued in the case that Wyeth executives hid or downplayed Prempro’s health risks as part of a marketing campaign designed boost sales and put profits over women’s health.

Annual sales of Wyeth’s hormone-replacement drugs topped $2 billion before the 2002 Women’s Health Initiative study, sponsored by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, suggested women using the medicines had a higher breast-cancer risk.

No New Trial

Jurors in Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas concluded in February Singleton deserved $3.45 million in compensatory damages and $6 million in punishment damages over Wyeth’s failure to properly warn about the drug’s risks.

The drugmaker’s lawyers asked Judge Mark Bernstein to throw out the verdict and grant Wyeth a new trial or to cut Singleton’s damage award. Bernstein denied the company’s request in a May 20 order that was made public yesterday, according to court records.

Canada’s highest court today declined to hear Wyeth’s appeal of a judge’s decision to allow a class-action case over Premarin to proceed in that country’s courts. A group of Canadian women are pressing claims that the drug helped cause their breast cancers.

The Philadelphia case is Singleton v. Wyeth Inc., 050102885, Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania.

To contact the reporters on this story: Jef Feeley in Wilmington, Delaware, at jfeeley@bloomberg.net; Dawn McCarty in Wilmington, Delaware dmccarty@bloomberg.net.

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