It's not the first time it's happened, but this latest lawsuit against Pfizer's menopause drugs, Provera, Premarin and Prempro, delivered a stinging blow to the pharmaceutical giant. The damages were punitive -- only $1.5 million awarded to Merle Simon after the company's hormone replacement drugs used to treat her hot flashes and night sweats were found to cause breast cancer. In the recent past, they've been known to shell out sums greater than $70 million for similar cases.
What stands out from this case however, is that Pfizer almost got off scot-free. In a back and forth jumble of verdicts, Simon initially won the case in May of 2007. A few months later, a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge revoked the ruling on the grounds that Simon should have sued Pfizer earlier.
That might have held some ground, except that the Women's Health Initiative -- the largest, most comprehensive study to date looking at the effects of hormone replacement therapy in menopausal women -- only recently (2002) announced a suspected connection to breast cancer. Simon had been using the hormones for an entire decade before this announcement and was initially granted compensation only five years after the study's release.
The case was finally retried before a Pennsylvania Superior Court last week Thursday, where a three-judge panel reversed the ruling, for a second time. The panel stated that it was unreasonable for any woman using hormone replacement before the WHI study's release to predict this cancerous link.
Pfizer, meanwhile, is standing behind its products, saying that Upjohn, the company that was previously responsible for Provera and that was acquired by Pfizer last October, acted responsibly.
Perhaps what's most concerning about this series of lawsuits however, is that Simon's case likely represents the tip of the iceberg. Simon's lawyer, Jim Morris, stated in an interview with Bloomberg that Philadelphia courts have, in the past, thrown out several similar cases for breast cancer settlements. This means that numerous women who had previously lost their cases may now be entitled to revision.
Even more alarming, are the cases to come. Bloomberg estimates that more than 6 million women have used hormone replacement for perimenopausal symptoms, many of them before the news of a breast cancer link.