Pfizer Seeking to Duck Prempro Cancer Liability, Lawyer Argues at Trial

A Pfizer Inc. unit is seeking to duck responsibility for two women’s breast cancers linked to its Prempro menopause drug, a lawyer argued at the end of a trial.

Pfizer’s Wyeth subsidiary rejected Sharon Buxton’s and Joy Henry’s claims that its hormone-replacement medicine helped cause their cancers in the face of a wealth of evidence to the contrary, Zoe Littlepage, a lawyer for the women, told a state court jury today in Philadelphia.

“Wyeth accepts responsibility for not a single breast cancer,” Littlepage said in closing arguments in the trial of the two women’s lawsuit against the drugmaker. The pair seek at least $100,000 total in damages in the first phase of the case.

More than 6 million women took the menopause drugs to treat symptoms such as hot flashes and mood swings before a 2002 study highlighted their links to cancer. Wyeth’s sales of the medicines, which are still on the market, topped $2 billion before the Women’s Health Initiative, a National Institutes of Health-sponsored study, concluded they posed an increased cancer risk.

Until 1995, many menopausal women combined Premarin, Wyeth’s estrogen-based drug, with Upjohn’s progestin-laden Provera, to relieve their symptoms. Wyeth later combined the two hormones in its Prempro pill.

Wyeth’s witnesses testified during the five-week trial that researchers haven’t conclusively found Prempro causes breast cancer, and Buxton’s and Henry’s lawyers didn’t produce enough evidence linking their cancers to the drug to win, Beth Wilkinson, one of the company’s attorneys, told jurors.

‘Lot of Proof’

“We brought you a whole lot of proof” that Prempro wasn’t the culprit in the cancers, Wilkinson argued.

Wyeth has lost seven of the 11 Prempro cases decided by juries since trials began in 2006. The drugmaker got some of those verdicts thrown out at the post-trial stage and or had awards reduced.

Pfizer also has won dismissals of more than 3,000 cases at either the pretrial stage or after the cases were set for trials, according to court filings.

A judge in Philadelphia refused in May to throw out a $9.4 million jury award to a woman who blamed Prempro for her breast cancer. The case is on appeal.

Buxton, 66, took Prempro over six years before the retired scheduler for a surgical practice developed breast cancer, court filings show. Henry, a 76-year-old owner of a moving company, took the drug for eight years before being diagnosed with the disease.

Clash Over Cause

Littlepage contends Wyeth knew the hormone-based Prempro could promote the growth of cancer and should be held liable. Wyeth officials counter that researchers can’t pinpoint a single cause of breast cancer and the medicine can’t be held responsible for the disease.

If jurors find for the women, they can award money for medical expenses, lost wages and pain and suffering. The panel then will be asked to decide whether Wyeth failed to adequately warn patients and doctors about Prempro’s risks.

Pfizer, the world’s largest drugmaker, completed its $68 billion purchase of Wyeth last year. It acquired Upjohn in 2003 as part of a $54 billion buyout of Pharmacia Corp.

The case is Buxton v. Wyeth, 00202, Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas (Philadelphia).

To contact the reporter on this story: Jef Feeley in Philadelphia at jfeeley@bloomberg.net.

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