By Ernest Bey
Dec. 31 (Bloomberg) -- A Pfizer Inc. unit must face a $1.5 million damage award over one of its menopause drugs, a Pennsylvania appeals court ruled.
A Philadelphia trial judge erred in throwing out the jury verdict against Pfizer’s Pharmacia & Upjohn unit, the Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled today. The appellate court reinstated the damage award to Merle Simon, who contends Upjohn’s hormone-replacement drug Provera helped cause her breast cancer.
“This ruling is a big win for plaintiffs because it potentially puts more than 1,000 cases over menopause drugs back on the trial docket,” Jim Morris, one of Simon’s lawyers, said in an interview.
More than 6 million women have taken hormone-replacement medicines to treat menopause symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats and mood swings. Until 1995, many patients combined Premarin, an estrogen-based drug made by Wyeth, with progestin- laden Provera, made by Upjohn.
Wyeth later combined the two hormones in Prempro. The drugs are still on the market. New York-based Pfizer, the world’s largest drugmaker, completed its $68 billion purchase of Wyeth in October.
Jurors in Simon’s trial rejected her claims that Wyeth’s menopause medicine helped cause her breast cancer and only returned a verdict against Upjohn.
“While we have great sympathy for what Mrs. Simon and her family have been through, we believe Pharmacia & Upjohn acted responsibly with respect to Provera,” Chris Loder, a Pfizer spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement.
Jurors awarded Simon, who took the menopause drugs for a decade, $1.5 million in compensatory damages in May 2007. Almost four months later, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Nitza Quinones Alejandro threw out the verdict after ruling that Simon should have sued Pfizer sooner over her breast-cancer claims.
A three-judge Superior Court panel found that Alejandro erred in finding Simon’s claims were barred by Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations on lawsuits.
The panel noted it was “entirely unreasonable” to assume women knew the links between hormone-replacement drugs and breast cancer until the 2002 Women’s Health Initiative study, sponsored by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, made them clear. The study found that women using menopause medicines had a higher risk of breast cancer.
New Trial Ruling
That gave Simon two years after the WHI study was released to file her case under Pennsylvania law, Morris said. She filed within that time period.
“All these other women who had their suits in Philadelphia thrown out on the same grounds can now get their cases back on the docket,” Morris said.
The appellate judges concluded there was “sufficient competent evidence” to sustain the jury’s finding that Provera helped cause Simon’s breast cancer.
The panel sent the case back to Alejandro so she can decide whether Upjohn is entitled to a new trial. They ordered her to make that decision by the end of February. In the meantime, the panel ordered the “jury verdict reinstated,” according to the 38-page ruling.
Pfizer has lost six of nine jury verdicts over its units’ menopause drugs since the cases began going to trial in 2006. Jurors have ruled against the company in the last four verdicts in a row.
Pfizer fell 31 cents, or 1.7 percent, to $18.19 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading today. The shares rose 2.7 percent this year.
The case is Simon v. Wyeth, 040604229, Court of Common Pleas (Philadelphia).