Pfizer Ordered to Pay $4 Million in Damages in Prempro Case

A Connecticut jury ruled on April 18th that Pfizer Inc. must pay at least $4 million in damages to a woman who developed breast cancer after taking Prempro.

Jurors in federal court in New Haven, Connecticut, ruled that Pfizer’s Wyeth unit (which Pfizer acquired in 2009) was liable for causing Margaret Fraser’s breast cancer, and that Prempro was an “unreasonably dangerous product,” as stated by one of her lawyers. The panel also found Wyeth should pay punitive damages over its handling of the drug.

The jury concluded that Wyeth’s handling of Prempro “was reckless and they had misrepresented the risks and benefits of its drug to patients and doctors.” The judge will decide the amount of the punitive damages reward that Pfizer must pay, at a later date.

In May 2011, Pfizer said it expected to pay at least $772 million to resolve litigation for the hormone-replacement therapy drugs, including Prempro. Pfizer inherited much of the litigation when it purchased Wyeth.

There are more than six million women who have taken Prempro and related menopause drugs to treat symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes and mood swings, before a 2002 study made the public aware of Prempro’s link to cancer.

Until 1995, many menopausal women combined Premarin, Wyeth’s estrogen-based drug, with progestin-based Provera, manufactured by Pfizer’s Upjohn unit, to relieve their symptoms of menopause. Wyeth eventually combined the two hormones in their Prempro pill.

Prior to the release of the Women’s Health Initiative, a National Institutes of Health-sponsored study, Wyeth’s sales of the drugs, which are still on the market today, reached more than $2 billion.

Pfizer’s Wyeth and Upjohn units have lost 11 of 20 Prempro cases decided by juries, since the trials began in 2006. The New York-based drug company got some of the verdicts thrown out after the trial or had awards reduced. Some of the verdicts were resolved through settlements, while other decisions are on appeal. Pfizer has also had cases thrown out before trial and has settled others.

The jurors in Fraser’s case found that Wyeth officials had failed to properly warn the retired public school principal about the risks of Prempro. Is this justice?

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