Pfizer Wins Arkansas Lawsuit Claiming Prempro Caused Woman's Breast Cancer

Pfizer Inc. properly warned an Arkansas woman about the cancer risks of its Prempro menopause drug, jurors found in rejecting her bid for at least $3.5 million in damages.

Jurors in federal court in Little Rock, Arkansas deliberated less than an hour before siding with Pfizer, the world’s largest drugmaker. Margaret Wilson, a 68-year-old former bank teller, claimed that Prempro helped caused her breast cancer and executives of Pfizer’s Wyeth unit hid the medicine’s health risks from women and their doctors.

Wyeth now has won six of the 13 Prempro cases decided by juries since trials began in 2006. Wyeth got some verdicts against it thrown out at the post-trial stage or had awards reduced. Wyeth also has won dismissals of more than 3,000 cases before trial, the company said in a statement.

The jury’s decision “affirms that Wyeth communicated the risks and benefits of Prempro,” Chris Loder, a Pfizer spokesman, said in the statement.

Until 1995, many menopausal women combined Premarin, Wyeth’s estrogen-based drug, with progestin-laden Provera, made by Pfizer’s Pharmacia & Upjohn unit, to relieve symptoms such as hot flashes and mood swings. Wyeth combined the two hormones in its Prempro pill.

Deadly Drug?

More than 6 million women took the drugs before the Women’s Health Initiative, a National Institutes of Health-sponsored study, concluded in 2002 that they posed an increased risk of cancer. Wyeth’s sales of the medicines topped $2 billion before the study. New York-based Pfizer completed its $68 billion purchase of Wyeth last year.

A study released today in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that women who took Prempro as part of the WHI study were almost twice as likely to die from breast cancer as those who weren’t taking the medicine.

Those findings conflict with previous research showing that breast cancers in women taking hormone therapy had a lower risk of death, Pfizer’s Loder said in a statement.

Lawyers for Wilson, who took Prempro for almost six years before being diagnosed with breast cancer, said they were disappointed with the jury’s finding.

“We’re sad that fine people like Mrs. Wilson and her husband didn’t get justice for their injuries,” Erik Walker, one of the woman’s attorneys, said in an interview after the verdict. The couple were seeking at least $3.5 million for pain, suffering and emotional distress over her breast cancer.

‘Business Decision’

During the three-week trial, Wilson’s lawyers told jurors that Wyeth officials never studied whether Prempro contributed to the development of breast cancer in some women, although research suggesting a link stretched back more than 30 years.

Instead, executives urged Wyeth scientists to dismiss studies tying its menopause drugs to the disease and to “distract” the media from focusing on them, Rainey Booth, one of the woman’s attorneys, said in closing arguments today.

“This company made a business decision not to get an answer” about Prempro’s breast-cancer risk, he said.

Wyeth’s lawyers countered that the drugmaker provided adequate warnings about Prempro’s cancer risks on the medicine’s label, and that menopause drugs haven’t been found conclusively to cause breast cancer.

“Prempro doesn’t cause DNA mutations” that lead to the development of cancer, Lyn Pruitt, one of Wyeth’s lawyers, told the jury.

Pfizer still faces at least 8,000 lawsuits seeking millions of dollars in damages over Prempro and its other menopause drugs. Most of the cases are consolidated in federal court in Little Rock and state court in Philadelphia.

The company faces trials during the next several months in the Philadelphia court and in federal court in northern Virginia.

The case is Wilson v. Wyeth, MDL 03-cv-1507-WRW, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Arkansas (Little Rock).

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

To contact the editor responsible for this story: David E. Rovella at drovella@bloomberg.net.

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