A French court ruled Friday that Belgian pharmaceuticals manufacturer UCB Pharma was liable for the cancers of two women whose mothers took Distilbene, a drug once prescribed to help prevent miscarriages but later found to cause cancer, while pregnant.
In the ruling, the first of its kind in France, the court in the Paris suburb of Nanterre ordered the company to pay 15,244 euros (dlrs 14,042) to each woman. The court also said an outside expert has up to four months to determine what other penalties to impose.
Distilbene, the commercial name for the synthetic hormone diethylstilbestrol, was primarily used from the late 1940s until the mid-1970s to help prevent miscarriages. But in 1971, scientific studies linked the drug to cancer.
Following those studies, the drug, known as DES in the United States, was banned for use by pregnant women by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
In France, it continued to be prescribed as a treatment for pregnant women until 1977. Today, it is prescribed in France only for the treatment of prostate cancer— its initially intended use.
UCB Pharma, in a statement, said it had “taken note” of the ruling and said it would examine the decision. It did not say whether it would appeal.
The company denied any causal link between the treatment and the illnesses, however, and said such problems potentially concerned only a very small number of people.
The plaintiffs, Nathalie Bobet, 33, and Ingrid Criou, 28, were delighted at the verdict, their lawyer said.
“My clients are living this decision as a victory,” attorney Martine Verdier told The Associated Press.
DES-France, an association uniting people who believe they are victims of the drug, estimates that about 160,000 people were exposed to the drug while their mothers were pregnant.