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Phila. jury orders Pfizer to pay 3 women $72.6 million in damages over menopause drugs

A Philadelphia jury Tuesday said pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. must pay three women $72.6 million in compensatory damages because the menopause drugs they took gave them breast cancer.

A Philadelphia jury Tuesday said pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. must pay three women $72.6 million in compensatory damages because the menopause drugs they took gave them breast cancer.

The Common Pleas Court jury will begin the punitive phase Friday and could last two weeks, but it might mean even larger awards for the women, who live or had lived in Pennsylvania.

Jury awards in such cases can be reduced by judges or changed by appeals courts.

"The plaintiffs were pleased with the phase one outcome, and they look forward to presenting phase two evidence beginning Friday," said attorney Tobi Millrood, a partner in the Conshohocken-based firm of Pogust, Braslow & Millrood L.L.C. He was joined in the case by Matt Leckman, also of Pogust, and Ted Meadows, of the Alabama law firm of Beasley, Allen.

Pfizer inherited the drug Prempro and other hormone therapy drugs when it bought Pharmacia (including Upjohn) in 2003 and Wyeth in 2009.

"We are obviously disappointed with the verdict in this case," Pfizer spokesman Chris Loder said in a statement. "Once the verdict is finalized, the company will weigh its legal options to determine how it will continue with the case.

"Hormone therapy medicines are an important treatment option for many women with debilitating symptoms of menopause. The FDA has regularly and thoroughly reviewed the benefits and risks of these medicines, and states that 'hormone therapy is the most effective FDA-approved medicine for relief of hot flashes, night sweats or vaginal dryness.' "

Those menopausal symptoms prompted more than six million women to take Prempro and related menopause drugs before a 2002 study highlighted their links to cancer, Bloomberg News reported. Bloomberg said Wyeth had sales of more than $2 billion before the release of the Women's Health Initiative, a National Institutes of Health-sponsored study.

Through the years, Common Pleas Court in Philadelphia has become a common venue for civil litigation involving multiple plaintiffs and drug companies from across the nation.

Susan Elfont, who used to live in Northeast Philadelphia but now lives in California, where she can be closer to her grandchildren, was awarded $20 million. Bernadette Kalenkoski was awarded $27.85 million and Judy Mulderig was awarded $24.75 million. Kalenkoski and Mulderig reside in Pennsylvania.

This was but one of thousands of Prempro cases that has kept the Pfizer legal team busy. In an SEC filing in May, the company said it had set aside $300 million to cover pending litigation.

The highest previous Prempro award was $58 million in a Nevada case involving three women. Pfizer appealed that verdict to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the court decided in June not to hear the case, thereby leaving in place the monetary decision and that of the Nevada State Supreme Court.

By Bloomberg's scorekeeping, Pfizer's Wyeth and Upjohn units have now lost 10 of the 18 Prempro cases decided by juries since trials began in 2006.

Some of the awards were later reduced or thrown out after the juries made their decisions.

"Of all trial-set hormone therapy cases that have been resolved for either party, 44 have been resolved in the company's favor through a combination of rulings by judges, jury verdicts, and dismissals by plaintiffs themselves to avoid going to trial," Pfizer said in its statement. "Nine juries have found for Wyeth, including six of the last eight; and there are eight final judgments for Wyeth. While eight plaintiffs' verdicts are in effect, five are not final, as they are being or will be challenged by the company as legally deficient. Additionally, more than 3,000 other cases have been dismissed or withdrawn before even being set for trial."