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Pfizer’s Prempro Didn’t Cause Woman’s Cancer, Jury Concludes

Pfizer Inc.’s Prempro menopause drug wasn’t the cause of a West Virginia woman’s breast cancer, a jury ruled today in rejecting her claim for damages.

Jurors in federal court in Charleston, West Virginia, found that hormone therapy medicines made by Pfizer’s Wyeth and Upjohn units weren’t a cause in the development of Leah Royce Hines’s breast cancer.

“While we have great sympathy for Mrs. Hines and her family, this verdict affirms the fact that science cannot determine what caused or contributed to any individual woman’s breast cancer, except in rare circumstances where genetics plays a role,” Chris Loder, a Pfizer spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement.

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.

Michael Williams, one of Hines’ lawyers, didn’t immediately return a phone call for comment on the verdict.

Verdicts, Settlements

Pfizer’s Wyeth and Upjohn units have now won eight of 16 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.

Wyeth also has won dismissals of more than 3,000 cases before trial, according to court filings. New York-based Pfizer, the world’s largest drugmaker, completed its $68 billion purchase of Wyeth in 2009.

In May, Pfizer executives said they’d set aside $772 million to resolve suits over menopause medicines. The officials added that the drugmaker has resolved about a third of cases filed over Prempro and its other hormone-replacement drugs.

Bloomberg News reported in February that Pfizer agreed to pay about $330 million to resolve 2,200 cases over the menopause drugs, according to people familiar with the accords. Pfizer officials disputed those numbers.

‘Mood Disturbances’

The 82-year-old Hines began taking Wyeth’s hormone-replacement drugs in the late 1980s to relieve her menopause symptoms, which included hot flashes, sweating and “mood disturbances,” according to court filings in the case. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in August 1999.

Hines’s lawyers argued during the two-week trial that the menopause medicines helped cause her cancer and Wyeth officials didn’t adequately outline the drugs’ health risks.

Hines’s suit was among a group of cases sent back to West Virginia for trial by a federal judge in Arkansas who is overseeing pre-trial proceedings in as many as 10,000 suits over the menopause drugs.

The case is Hines v. Wyeth, 04-cv-690, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia (Charleston).

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