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Verdict history shows juries find Wyeth downplayed breast cancer risk for HRT

Recently, the Pennsylvania Appellate Court affirmed a $1.5 million compensatory and $8.6 million punitive award against Wyeth, a division of Pfizer, on behalf of a woman diagnosed with hormone positive breast cancer. Plaintiff Mary Daniel had taken Wyeth’s hormone pill, Prempro, for 18 months. The trial and appeal was handled by Plaintiff’s attorneys Zoe Littlepage and Rainey Booth. How does this most recent decision affect the track record in hormone replacement therapy (HRT) litigation against Wyeth, which has been going on for several years?

Plaintiffs have won trials 12 out of 18 times. Due to the serious nature of breast cancer, the average compensatory verdict has been $2.6 million. In addition, each time a jury has been allowed, they have found Wyeth’s conduct to be so bad as to warrant punitive damages, with the average being $30.4 million.

Evidence at these trials illustrates Wyeth’s campaign to make billions of dollars in profit from HRT drugs Premarin and Prempro, while keeping the truth about the drugs’ dangers secret. Among the fact presented to jurors:

  • Wyeth was on notice of the need to study whether combination hormone therapy causes breast cancer as early as 1975, but failed to conduct a single breast cancer study over the course of the next three decades – despite over a dozen red flags that breast cancer was a safety problem;
  • Instead of studying the breast cancer risk, Wyeth took active steps to downplay, dismiss and contain the release of data from other institution’s studies that showed such risk;
  • Even worse, Wyeth ghost-wrote dozens of medical articles that minimized the breast cancer risk and exaggerated the benefits of hormone therapy and then published these articles in reputable medical journals under independent doctor’s names;
  • It was not until a government study was stopped early because of breast cancer that the world learned the truth;
  • Studies now confirm that 200,000 women – grandmothers, mothers, sisters and wives – would not have suffered breast cancer but for their use of combination hormone therapy drugs.

In September 2010, formerly classified letters from Wyeth sales representatives came to light, in which they expressed serious concern about Wyeth’s promotion of HRT drugs. The letters were written in July 2000 by sales representatives of Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories, a division of Pfizer pharmaceutical company. The letter writers – Cynthia L. Waldrep, Charles H. Payne and Carl Whatley – sold medications to physicians in Alabama and Georgia while working for Wyeth.

Addressed to Wyeth executives and to the company’s Office of Ethics and Business Conduct, the letters express serious concerns that the drug manufacturer was encouraging its drug sales reps to minimize any risk of breast cancer, and also to promote dangerous off-label use of the HRT drugs Premarin and Prempro. Those off-label uses were never approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.

For more information:

Read the Whatley letter
Read the Payne letter
Read the Waldrep letter

Download the Prempro Jury Verdict Table

Related stories:

Juries award more than $103 million in Wyeth HRT Cases
Letters reveal Wyeth downplayed breast cancer risks
Wyeth paid ghostwriters for medical journal articles – The Jere Beasley Report (2009, January).

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