Two Prempro Trials, Two Different Outcomes

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Philadelphia, PAMore than 8000 lawsuits have been filed against pharmaceutical company Wyeth, a unit of Pfizer Inc., claiming that its hormone-replacement drug Prempro puts women at risk for breast cancer.

Audrey Singleton, a retired school bus driver and a mother of three from Chatom, Alabama, began taking Prempro in August 1997. The results of a mammogram she underwent at that time were normal, her lawyers said during the trial. In January 2004 she was diagnosed with breast cancer and stopped taking the drug.

Pfizer argued that Singleton learned of the risks in 2002—five years after she began Prempro therapy—but that her prescribing physician suggested she stay with Prempro.

On February 22 the Common Pleas Court jury in Philadelphia awarded plaintiff Singleton nearly $10 million dollars in her lawsuit against Wyeth. Singleton won $3.25 million in compensatory damages and $6 million in punitive damages. The verdict also included $200,000 to Singleton's husband for loss of consortium.

Pfizer said it would appeal the decision. "We believe that there is no basis in fact or law for either the liability verdict or punitive award in this case," the company said.

However, no more than two days later, a different Philadelphia jury ruled in favor of Pfizer in another Prempro case. The plaintiff, Cheryl Foust, from Richmond Indiana, had been taking Prempro for about four years before she learned in 2003 that she had breast cancer. Foust died in 2005 at age 56.

Prempro, a combination of the medications Provera and Premarin, was used by more than six million women to treat symptoms of menopause, including hot flashes and mood swings, before a 2002 study found links between the drugs and cancer. In the Foust trial, lawyers for the manufacturer made no effort to hide that link. In their closing arguments, they cited what they described as 'overwhelming evidence' that the health care professionals who prescribed Prempro to Foust knew of the breast cancer risk and that the plaintiff decided to undertake hormone replacement therapy despite the risks.

In a statement released by email the day of the jury verdict, the manufacturer said, "While we have great sympathy for Mrs. Foust's family, we believe the facts in this case confirm our position that Wyeth acted responsibly by conducting or supporting more than 180 studies on hormone therapy's benefits and risks."

The verdict was Wyeth's fourth victory in 11 Prempro cases that have gone before juries.

Pfizer acquired Wyeth last year for $68 billion.

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