Supreme Court Rejects Pfizer Prempro, Premarin Appeal

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 <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/prempro">Premarin and Prempro, Bloomberg News announced.

Hormone therapy drugs like Prempro, <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/premarin">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.

The Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the appeal leaves the award as the largest upheld on appeal in the thousands of drug lawsuits concerning hormone replacement therapy (HRT) medications, noted 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, according to Bloomberg previously. 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.

The lawsuits claim Wyeth did not adequately test Prempro, and they 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.

According to Bloomberg News, over 6 million women took Prempro and other menopause medications prior to the 2002 study.

In this 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, 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, noted Bloomberg News.

“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,” Chris Loder, a Pfizer spokesman, said via email, quoted Bloomberg News.

Pfizer has already settled one-third of pending Prempro lawsuits and is reportedly preparing to resolve even more cases. According to a prior report from Bloomberg.com, the company has set aside more than $700 million to settle claims that Prempro caused women to develop breast cancer.

According to Bloomberg, Pfizer has lost eight of the 15 Prempro cases that have made it to juries since 2006. However, some of those verdicts have been thrown out, and some rewards have been reduced.

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