Hormone therapy drugs didn't cause cancer, jury rules



CHARLESTON -- A federal jury on Thursday found that hormone therapy medicines manufactured by two Pfizer subsidiaries were not a cause in the development of a woman's breast cancer.

Thursday's verdict in the U.S. District Court of West Virginia marks five out of six recent jury victories for the company and its subsidiaries, Wyeth and Pharmacia & Upjohn.

"While we have great sympathy for Mrs. (Leah Royce) Hines and her family, this verdict affirms the fact that science cannot determine what caused or contributed to any individual woman's breast cancer, except in rare circumstances where genetics plays a role. In fact, the National Cancer Institute's website states that: 'No one knows the exact causes of breast cancer,'" Pfizer said in a statement.

"Hormone therapy medicines are an important treatment option for many women with debilitating symptoms of menopause. At all times relevant to this case, the companies' hormone therapy medications carried accurate, science-based, FDA-approved warnings for physicians and patients regarding a risk of breast cancer."

The plaintiff, Hines, was diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, on April 9, 1999 and breast cancer on July 2, 1999.

She filed a lawsuit against the Pfizer subsidiaries on July 7, 2004.

In her original complaint, Hines alleged that the hormone therapy drugs Premarin, Prempro and Provera caused her DVT and breast cancer.

Both Premarin, approved by the FDA in 1942, and Prempro, approved by the FDA in 1994, are used for the treatment of moderate to severe symptoms of menopause and the prevention of osteoporosis. Provera has been FDA-approved since 1959.

Hines had pursed both claims until January, when she withdrew her claims relating to DVT.

Harry F. Bell Jr. of The Bell Law Firm in Charleston represented Hines. He said the verdict is not surprising given the defense's resources and how restricted the evidence in the case was.

"Unfortunately, certain rulings in the case meant that the jury never got to hear significant amounts of evidence, much of which was allowed in other similar cases," Bell said.

He pointed to Judge John T. Copenhaver Jr., who presided over the trial.

"He's a very experienced judge and a conservative judge," Bell said. "But that's one of the things judges do. They make calls."

The defense's resources also were considerable, he said.

"I wish people could understand the time and resources they put into this case," he said.

Bell said the company's attorneys set up a temporary office in downtown Charleston and brought in jury consultants and focus groups.

Then they bombarded the court with motions, he said.

"They just pounded us on every single argument, every single point," Bell said. "They slammed the court and us with a lot of motions. And I'd say the vast majority of those motions, the defendants won."

Because of that, there was a lot of evidence the jury didn't get to hear, Bell said.

For one, jurors didn't hear from a surgeon who treated Hines. This doctor, Bell said, was prepared to testify that Hines' cancer was caused or accelerated by these hormone therapy medicines.

"To me, that's frustrating," he said.

The jury, Bell said, also was more than likely worn out with the extensive amount of studies presented by Pfizer's lawyers.

"It's a good defense strategy," he said. "It's very, very hard for a jury to absorb and understand all of that."

Bell would not say for sure if an appeal would be filed, although he said it's "almost certain."

"I think there is some error in the case," he said. "There are definitely some significant issues."

According to Pfizer, of all trial-set hormone therapy cases that have been resolved for either party, the company has prevailed "in the vast majority" through a combination of rulings by judges, jury verdicts and dismissals by plaintiffs themselves to avoid going to trial.

In fact, 35 trial-set cases have been resolved in Pfizer's favor, including one reversal post verdict.

The company noted that while seven plaintiffs' verdicts are in effect, five are not final.

Additionally, more than 3,000 other cases have been dismissed or withdrawn before even being set for trial, Pfizer said.

Working with Bell on the plaintiff's case were Christopher T. Kirchmer and Thomas H. McGowan of the Provost Umphrey law firm in Beaumont, Texas; Michael L. Williams and Leslie W. O'Leary of Portland, Ore.; Melinda R. Coolidge and Richard S. Lewis of Washington, D.C.; Rainey Booth of Pensacola, Fla.; and Zoe Littlepage of Houston, Texas.

The defense team included David Dukes and John Mark Jones of Nelson Mullens Riley & Scarborough's Columbia, S.C., office; Andrew Keith Solow and Bert L. Slonim of New York, N.Y.; Charles P. Goodell Jr., James A. Frederick, Jeffrey J. Hines, Richard M. Barnes; Shayon T. Smith and Aaron L. Moore of Baltimore, Md.; Edward J. Bennett of Washington, D.C.; Erik W. Legg, Michael J. Farrell and Tamara White of Huntington's Farrell White & Legg; Kelly A. Evans of Las Vegas, Nev.; Pamela J. Yates of Los Angeles; and Laurie K. Miller, Lynn Oliver Frye and Pamela D. Tarr of Jackson Kelly.

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