A Philadelphia jury blasted the drugmaker Wyeth yesterday for failing to warn a patient about breast-cancer risks of its hormone drug Prempro and awarded the Ohio woman and her husband $3 million in damages.
It was the second - and biggest - loss in litigation over Prempro. Wyeth has headquarters in Madison, N.J., with pharmaceutical operations in Collegeville. It has won two Prempro cases, has settled at least one, and has three more trials scheduled for this year.
Wyeth indicated it would appeal yesterday's verdict.
"We respectfully disagree that there is any scientific basis to support the jury's finding of a causal link between Wyeth's hormone therapies and the plaintiff's breast cancer," Barbara R. Binis, a Wyeth defense attorney from the Philadelphia office of Reed Smith L.L.P., said in a statement.
The company has said it faces about 5,000 cases over its hormone-replacement drugs, including Prempro and Premarin.
But plaintiffs' attorneys say cases involving at least 10,000 people have been filed nationwide in federal and state courts, including roughly 1,800 people in Philadelphia's Court of Common Pleas. Almost all involve breast cancer.
In the annals of pharmaceutical liability, Wyeth already stands out for its $21 billion cost in settling lawsuits over the diet-drug combination known as fen-phen.
"There will come a time when Wyeth will realize it makes good business sense to settle on Prempro, too," said Tobias Millrood, of the law firm Schiffrin Barroway Topaz & Kessler, cocounsel for Jennie Nelson, the latest Prempro plaintiff. "Verdicts like this will help."
On Wall Street, the verdict evidently helped push down Wyeth shares by 26 cents, to $50.45.
The verdict included $2.4 million in compensatory damages for Nelson, 67, and $600,000 for her husband, Lawrence Nelson, 79. The judge in the case had earlier ruled out punitive damages.
The state court jury deliberated more than two days before finding that Wyeth "failed to provide an adequate warning" to Nelson about the links between Prempro and breast cancer. It was a retrial of Nelson's case, first tried in October.
Nelson began using Prempro in 1995 and was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001. Her attorney, Ken Suggs, told the Philadelphia jury that Wyeth misled women about Prempro's cancer risk by putting "fuzzy" warnings on the drug's label.
In 2002, a study by the Women's Health Initiative, sponsored by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, concluded that women who received a combination of estrogen and progestin in Prempro had a 24 percent higher risk of getting invasive breast cancer.
Wyeth's attorneys, however, blamed Nelson's cancer on other factors, including her family history. They told jurors the cancer warnings included on the drug's label were sanctioned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
"The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved Prempro, and it's still on the market," Binis said after yesterday's verdict was announced.
Sales of Wyeth's hormone-replacement drugs, Prempro and Premarin, were $937 million in 2006. Sales had exceeded $2 billion a year before the Women's Health Initiative study.