Wyeth, which set aside $16.6 billion to resolve diet-drug lawsuits, is in settlement talks with lawyers for people who have rejected the drugmaker’s attempts to resolve remaining claims over heart damage caused by the fen-phen diet combination, the company said Tuesday.
Wyeth is negotiating with attorneys for some of the 60,000 former fen-phen users who opted out of the company’s $3.75 billion national settlement, Wyeth officials said. If the talks lead to a resolution, it would eliminate some of the company’s lingering fen-phen liability, claimants’ lawyers say.
“Wyeth’s agreement to go forward with this proposal will depend upon, among other things, the overall level of participation in the process,” the Madison-based company said in a statement. Wyeth has until Feb. 15 to pull out of the settlement if too many claimants reject it, according to court documents.
The talks come as Wyeth has faced a recent spate of trials over claims that its weight-loss medicines damaged users’ hearts. Two juries in Philadelphia found last month that fen-phen scarred four women’s hearts and awarded them a total of $2.75 million in damages.
“It helps them close the chapter on fen-phen,” Steve Roukis, director of research at New York-based Matrix Asset Advisors, said of the possible settlement. Matrix owns about 1.2 million Wyeth shares, according to Bloomberg data.
Wyeth’s shares rose $2.42, or 5.7 percent to $44.70 in New York Stock Market composite trading. They’ve increased 1.2 percent in the last 12 months.
Wyeth pulled the diet drugs Pondimin and Redux off the market in 1997 after researchers linked them to heart and lung problems in some users. Those drugs were combined with the generic phentermine in the fen-phen combination.
Of the more than $16.6 billion Wyeth set aside to deal with its fen-phen liability, only about $3 billion remains, company officials said in a November filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
The company failed to resolve its fen-phen liability through the $3.75 billion national settlement, reached in 1999. The company has agreed to add another $1.3 billion to that accord to speed up the resolution of claims. A federal judge in Philadelphia is expected to decide this week whether to approve the addition.
Lawyers representing about 8,000 former fen-phen users who opted not to join the settlement are likely to resolve their claims under the new approach.
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