Pfizer Inc. (PFE) must pay $72.6 million in damages to three women who said they developed breast cancer after taking the company’s menopause drugs, a Philadelphia jury decided.
Jurors today in state court deliberated over two days before finding hormone-replacement drugs made by Pfizer’s Wyeth and Pharmacia Upjohn units were responsible for Susan Elfont, Bernadette Kalenkoski and Judy Mulderig developing cancer. The panel awarded Elfont $20 million in compensatory damages; Kalenkoski, $27.85 million; and Mulderig, $24.75 million.
“We are obviously disappointed with the verdict in this case,” Chris Loder, a Pfizer spokesman, said in a written statement. “Once the verdict is finalized, the company will weigh its legal options to determine how it will continue with the case.”
More than 6 million women took Prempro and related 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 release of the Women’s Health Initiative, a National Institutes of Health-sponsored study.
Until 1995, many menopausal women combined Premarin, Wyeth’s estrogen-based drug, with progestin-laden Provera, made by Pfizer’s Upjohn unit, to relieve their symptoms. Wyeth combined the two hormones in its Prempro pill.
Pfizer’s Wyeth and Upjohn units have now lost 10 of the 18 Prempro cases decided by juries since trials began in 2006. The drugmaker got some of those verdicts thrown out after trial or had the awards reduced. It resolved some of the verdicts through settlements, while other decisions are on appeal. It also has had cases thrown out before trial.
Pfizer announced in May that it had settled a third of the pending Prempro cases and had set aside $772 million to help resolve the claims.
Elfont, 66, is a former teacher who once lived in Northeast Philadelphia, Tobi Millrood, a lawyer for the three women, said during the trial. She took Premarin and Provera for more than two years before being diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997, Millrood said.
Kalenkoski, 68, is a former nursing home aide who took Prempro for more than four years and was diagnosed with cancer in 2002, Millrood said. Mulderig, 68, a retired teacher from Carlisle, Pennsylvania, took Premarin and Provera for 11 years starting in 1988, the lawyer added.
Millrood told jurors during the first phase of the two-week trial that none of the three women had a family history of breast cancer and experts concluded their use of menopause drugs led to the development of the disease.
Millrood declined today to comment on the verdict because jurors must further consider Wyeth’s liability for damages in the second phase of the case, slated to begin Dec. 9.
Diane Sullivan, one of the lawyers for the Pfizer units, said the evidence was unclear on how long the women had taken menopause drugs because of gaps in their pharmacy records. She said the women’s individual cases differed from those covered by the WHI study and plaintiffs shouldn’t be able to rely on that study to make their case.
“They are trying to make these women fit with the WHI study and they don’t fit,” Sullivan told the seven-man, five- woman jury in closing arguments.
The last Prempro verdict against the Pfizer units came a year ago in Puerto Rico, where a jury awarded $1.5 million in damages to a pharmacist who took the menopause drug. The company won the next two cases before today’s verdict.
The Philadelphia case is Elfont v. Wyeth Pharmaceuticals Inc., 00924, Jury Term 2004, Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas (Philadelphia).
To contact the reporters on this story: Jef Feeley in Wilmington, Delaware, at firstname.lastname@example.org; Chris Yasiejko in Philadelphia at email@example.com; Phil Milford in Wilmington, Delaware, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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