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Prempro settlements cost Pfizer $896M; 4,000 lawsuits remain

Jun 21, 2012 | Parker Waichman LLP
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Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. has disclosed that it has paid at least $896 million to settle 6,000 Prempro injury lawsuits filed by or on behalf of women who claimed they developed breast cancer while taking the menopause drug.

Bloomberg News reports Pfizer disclosed this fact in a quarterly filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The total amount of lawsuits settled out of court represents about 60 percent of the 10,000 filed against the company from women blame Prempro for causing cancer. At least 4,000 lawsuits still are unresolved. Pfizer has indicated that it has set aside another $330 million to settle those lawsuits. The cases are paying an average of $150,000 per person and resolve claims that Pfizer's Wyeth and Pharmacia & Upjohn divisions failed to warn the public about the risk of cancer posed by its popular menopause drug. The company is unsure whether the money it has set aside for future litigation will be enough to cover the cost of the settlements or possibly jury awards.

At least 6 million women have taken Prempro as a drug treatment for symptoms of menopause, like hot flashes and unexpected mood swings. Sales boomed to $2 billion a year until the release of a National Institutes of Health study which linked use of Prempro and other similar menopause drugs to cancer. Prempro is a combination drug, using Premarin and Provera to deliver two hormones, estrogen and progestin. Before it was approved for use in 1995, menopausal women were usually encouraged to take both drugs.

In addition to its risk of causing breast cancer, women taking Prempro have also developed other side effects, including ovarian cancer, gallbladder cancer, lupus, scleroderma, stroke, blood clots, severe asthma, and pulmonary embolisms.

Pfizer has been urged to settle injury lawsuits involving women who allege they developed cancer as a result of taking Prempro. Eleven of the 21 lawsuits which had reached a jury have resulted in losses for the company. Of the 10,000 lawsuits Pfizer once faced involving Prempro injuries, all but 2,000 were filed in a federal court where all cases had been consolidated. The remaining lawsuits were filed in state courts in Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Minnesota, according to the report.

Juries across the country have been inclined to offer larger sums in punitive and other damages to women who successfully argued they developed breast cancer as a result of Prempro and further asserted that the companies behind the drug were guilty of "outrageous conduct" in its marketing and research behind the drug. An attorney representing some of the victims in the remaining cases to be tried or settled believes these women are entitled to more than the average reached for claims so far.

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