Sunday, January 10, 2010

This is why Wyeth is Out of Business! Let's Get Smarter and Change The Standard of Care

Connie Barton, then a medical office assistant in Peoria, Ill., was one woman who responded to such messages. She says she took Prempro, a hormone drug made by Wyeth, from 1997, when she was 53, until 2002, when she received a diagnosis of breast cancer. As part of her cancer treatment, she had a mastectomy to remove her left breast. Now Ms. Barton, who said in an interview that she used Prempro in part because her doctor told her it could help prevent heart disease and dementia, is one of more than 13,000 people who have sued Wyeth over the last seven years, claiming in courts across the country that its menopause drugs caused breast cancer and other problems. The suits also assert, based on recently unsealed court documents, that Wyeth oversold the benefits of menopausal hormones and failed to properly warn of the risks.

In October, a jury in a Pennsylvania state court awarded Ms. Barton $75 million in punitive damages from Wyeth on top of compensatory damages of $3.75 million. The drug giant Pfizer, which absorbed Wyeth and its hormone drugs in a merger this year, says that Prempro is a safe, federally approved drug that did not cause Ms. Barton’s breast cancer. Chris Loder, a Pfizer spokesman, says Wyeth acted responsibly by including a clear warning about a breast cancer risk on Prempro labels and by updating the warning as new evidence emerged.

Mr. Loder also notes that Pfizer plans to appeal every product-liability case on menopausal drugs it loses, including Ms. Barton’s. While Wyeth has faced periodic complaints about its blockbuster menopause drugs, the latest lawsuits have turned the company’s menopausal hormone franchise into the kind of case study dissected at Ivy League business schools. Lawyers have made some documents public in the suits, and The New York Times and the nonprofit Public Library of Science filed successful motions to unseal thousands of documents in July.

To be sure, even some doctors who think hormone therapy has risks say it is the most effective treatment for symptoms directly associated with menopause. The documents that have surfaced in the Wyeth cases offer a rare glimpse inside the file cabinets and hard drives of a major drug company. And the cases demonstrate the importance of litigation in detailing exactly how drug makers operate their businesses, says Dr. Jerome L. Avorn, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School who has written about the subject in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

“The information coming out in litigation helps us understand how a belief in a ‘protective benefit’ of estrogens on the heart was able to spread like wildfire through the medical community,” says Dr. Avorn, who is not involved in the Wyeth litigation. “Thousands of doctors prescribed the drugs for millions of women on that basis,” he says, adding that studies later contradicted the belief. “It will be very interesting to see whether the courts are able to connect the dots and make it clear whether this was a kind of medical ventriloquism on Wyeth’s part.”


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Thanks for joining my revolution to educate women about their hormones! Let's work together.