Eli Lilly Settles Massachusetts Pregnancy Drug Case

On the second day of testimony in federal court in Boston, a settlement was announced between Eli Lilly and Co. and four sisters who claimed their breast cancers were caused by a drug their mother took during her pregnancies in the 1950s.

The Melnick sisters are among 51 women who had filed suits in Boston against more than one dozen companies that made or marketed the synthetic estrogen, DES, The Associated Press (AP) reports. During opening arguments, a lawyer for the Melnicks told the jury that Eli Lilly had failed to test the drug’s effect on fetuses before promoting it as a way to prevent miscarriages. The four sisters, who were diagnosed with breast cancer between 1997 and 2003, while in their 40s, said their mother had taken DES during the four pregnancies. A fifth sister, who has not developed breast cancer, said their mother did not take DES during the fifth pregnancy.

From the 1940s through the 1970s, DES (diethylstilbestrol) was widely prescribed to pregnant women to prevent miscarriage, premature birth, or other problems during pregnancy. As we’ve previously written, thousands of women whose mothers took DES during pregnancy allege adverse reactions, including vaginal, cervical, and breast cancers, and fertility problems, as a result of prenatal DES exposure. A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 1971 reported a link between DES and a rare vaginal cancer in the female children of DES mothers, prompting a warning to physicians from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommending against prescribing DES to pregnant women. The FDA withdrew market approval for DES products containing 25 milligrams or more in 1975. U.S. manufacturers stopped making and selling the drug in 1997 and, in 1999, DES was added to the FDA’s list of drugs withdrawn or removed from the market over safety or efficacy reasons.

Neither Eli Lilly nor attorneys for the Melnick sisters would disclose the financial terms of the settlement, the AP said.

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