Three breast cancer victims have been awarded $72 million in damages following allegations they developed breast cancer after taking Pfizer Inc.’s menopause drug, Prempro.
Jurors in Philadelphia state court found that Pfizer’s Wyeth and Pharmacia Upjohn units’ hormone replacement medications caused Susan Elfont, Bernadette Kalenkoski, and Judy Mulderig to develop cancer, said Bloomberg News. Elfont was awarded $20 million; Kalenkoski, $27.85 million; and Mulderig, $24.75 million in compensatory damages.
“We are obviously disappointed with the verdict in this case,” Chris Loder, a Pfizer spokesman, said in a written statement, Bloomberg News reported. “Once the verdict is finalized, the company will weigh its legal options to determine how it will continue with the case.”
Hormone therapy drugs like Prempro, Premarin, and Provera are used to treat the hot flashes and other symptoms that accompany menopause. In 2002, the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), a major study conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), determined that Prempro and similar drugs significantly increased the risk of stroke, blood clots, heart attacks, and breast cancer. The results were so alarming that the NIH canceled the study, citing risk to the study’s participants. The authors of the study suggested that many of the women who used the medications should quit and talk to their doctors about alternatives. Over 6 million women have been prescribed these medications said Bloomberg News.
The WHI findings sparked a tidal wave of litigation. At one time, Pfizer faced around 10,000 lawsuits involving its hormone medications, Prempro and Premarin. Around 8,000 are consolidated in a multidistrict litigation in federal court in Arkansas, while others are pending in various state courts. Pfizer inherited the lawsuits when it acquired Wyeth in 2009, which claim Wyeth did not adequately test Prempro, and allege that doctors and patients were not properly warned that the drug may increase the risk of breast cancer. Some complaints even claim that Wyeth intentionally hid the risk of breast cancer from Prempro.
Before 1995, a combination of Wyeth’s Premarin, an estrogen-based drug, and Provera, Pfizer Upjohns progestin medication, were prescribed to alleviate menopausal discomfort; the two hormones were ultimately combined in Wyeths’ Prempro pill, explained Bloomberg News.
To date, Pfizer’s Wyeth and Upjohn units have lost 10 of 18 Prempro cases decided by juries since those trials initiated in 2006, said Bloomberg News. This May, Pfizer announced that it settled about one-third of its pending Prempro cases and also put aside $772 million for pending and future claims, said Bloomberg News.
Most recently, the United States Supreme Court just refused to hear an appeal from a unit of drug maker Pfizer Inc. concerning a $58 million award made to three women who developed breast cancer after taking Premarin and Prempro, Bloomberg News previously said. In that case, the Nevada Supreme Court found that jurors appropriately held Pfizer’s Wyeth unit responsible for hiding Premarin’s and Prempro’s breast-cancer risks, said Bloomberg News previously, which explained that the 2007 award totaled $134.1 million to Arlene Rowatt, Jeraldine Scofield, and Pamela Forrester. The trial judge reduced the verdict to $57.6 million.
“While we are disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision, it does nothing to change the fact that hormone therapy medicines are an important treatment option for many women with debilitating symptoms of menopause,” Loder, said via email, wrote Bloomberg News.