A Philadelphia jury returned a sealed punitive-damages verdict late yesterday against the drug maker after finding a link between a woman's breast cancer and the hormone-replacement drug, the Associated Press reports. Connie Barton's case is one of a handful of Prempro lawsuits to go to trial out of several thousand filed across the country. About 1,500 are pending in Philadelphia.
At Wyeth's request, the amount of Barton's punitive award was sealed pending the verdict in a second Prempro case underway in the same courthouse, the AP continues. The jury had awarded Barton $3.75 million in compensatory damages last week and found Wyeth willfully hid evidence of a cancer link, prompting the deliberations Monday on punitive damages.
"They knew back in the 1970s that these drugs had the potential to cause breast cancer, so they didn't have the studies done," Esther Berezofsky, one of Barton's lawyers, tells the AP. "When bad study results came out, Wyeth consistently downplayed the results, tried to discredit the results, tried to neutralize the critics."
Barton, 64, a retired hospital records clerk from Peoria, Ill., took Prempro for five years before her 2002 cancer diagnosis. "I'm glad I got to tell my story," said tells the AP.
Wyeth, in court arguments, told jurors that women are now fully informed of the risks and benefits of Prempro, a combination estrogen-progestin pill, the news service reports. Wyeth no longer lets its consultants ghostwrite medical journal articles, does not promote off-label drug use and has changed internal rules on gifts to doctors and other policies, a lawyer informs the AP. "The conduct that you disapproved of, obviously by your verdict, no longer takes place," lawyer Lauren Handler told jurors as she argued against punitive damages.
Sales have plunged since 2002 when a large federal health study, the Women's Health Initiative, was stopped when researchers saw more breast cancers among women taking Prempro. A study this year shows that lung cancer seems more likely to prove fatal in women who are taking the combination drug. "When the prescriptions plummeted, so did the rates of breast cancer," says Berezofsky.
The handful of other Philadelphia Prempro cases to reach a verdict also went for the plaintiff, but judges later found insufficient evidence to support the verdicts. The cases are all on appeal.