Pfizer's Wyeth Loses Hearing Bid Over British Columbia Premarin Lawsuit

Pfizer Inc.’s Wyeth unit lost a bid at Canada’s highest court to block a lawsuit that alleges the menopause drug Premarin caused breast cancer.

The Supreme Court of Canada today declined to hear Wyeth’s appeal of a British Columbia decision denying the company’s claim that its U.S. units couldn’t be sued in the province. The high court gave no reason for its decision.

The ruling clears the way for the suit to proceed to a certification hearing in December, where plaintiff Dianna Stanway will ask a judge to let all Canadian women who took Wyeth’s hormone-replacement medicines sue as a group, said David Klein, Stanway’s lawyer at Klein Lyons in Vancouver.

“About nine out of 10 pharmaceutical lawsuits in Canada are certified,” Klein said in a phone interview.

Wyeth’s U.S. and Canadian units were sued in 2006 by Stanway, of Sechelt, British Columbia. Stanway claimed she developed breast cancer as a result of taking estrogen-based Premarin in combination with the drug progestin. Wyeth’s U.S. units urged the appeals court to throw out the suit, claiming British Columbia courts lacked jurisdiction to try the case.

Wyeth sold and promoted the drug in Canada and its “conduct amounts to personal subjection to the jurisdiction,” Judge Kenneth Smith wrote on behalf of the appeals panel. “It was therefore reasonable for them to contemplate they might be sued in British Columbia.”

‘Acted Responsibly’

The Supreme Court ruling was procedural and not a decision on the merits of the case, said Chris Loder, a Pfizer spokesman.

“We continue to believe Wyeth acted responsibly by conducting or supporting more than 180 studies on hormone therapy’s benefits and risks,” Loder said. The company “provided proper, accurate and science-based information to patients and doctors.”

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

The Canadian suit won’t include women who took menopause drugs that weren’t made by Wyeth, which had the biggest market share in the country, or who suffered from other side effects, Klein said.

“This case is about breast cancer,” he said.

The case is Wyeth Pharmaceuticals v. Dianna Louise Stanway, 33580, Supreme Court of Canada (Ottawa). The appeals court case is Between Dianna Louise Stanway and Wyeth Pharmaceuticals Inc., CA036317, Court of Appeal for British Columbia (Vancouver).

To contact the reporter on this story: Joe Schneider in Toronto at jschneider5@bloomberg.net.

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