The same day a Philadelphia jury ruled that a hormone replacement drug at least partially caused a woman's breast cancer, a Reno woman who is dying of the disease reached an out-of-court settlement with the New Jersey-based drug maker.
Just two days before her trial was to begin, Carol McCreary and Wyeth Pharmaceuticals told Washoe District Judge Robert Perry on Wednesday they have resolved the case. Both sides agreed that the terms of the settlement will remain confidential.
Earlier Wednesday, the Philadelphia jury awarded Jennie Nelson, 66, of Dayton, Ohio, $1 million and her husband $500,000 in compensatory damages. The panel must return to determine whether Wyeth is liable for damages.
Nelson had taken Prempro for five years to treat menopausal symptoms before being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001.
"Other plaintiffs lawyers will see this as an indication that it's possible to prove causation in a Prempro case, and that will be encouraging to plaintiffs and unwelcome news for Wyeth," Seton Hall law professor Howard M. Erichson said.
"But ultimately, if Wyeth prevails in the second phase, then Weyeth will be 2-and-0 in the Prempro litigation and that will be the significant news," he said.
Madison, N.J.-based Wyeth won the first Prempro case last month when a federal jury in Little Rock, Ark., rejected a similar claim filed by a 67-year-old woman there.
About 5,100 women have filed suits over Wyeth hormone drugs Premarin and Prempro, but just a handful are scheduled for trial this year. The Philadelphia case is the second to go to trial. McCreary's would have been the third.
Wyeth said the company acted responsibly, noting that the Food and Drug Administration in 1995 called hormone replacement drugs the most extensively researched medicines in the United States.
"I am grateful that my attorneys have resolved my case against Wyeth Corporation," she said in a statement. "I am happy to get on with my life and not spend the next several weeks in a courtroom."
In the weeks leading up to the trial, Wyeth representatives said they sympathized with McCreary's situation, but denied that Prempro is responsible for her cancer.
"Science is unable to determine the specific cause of any woman's breast cancer," Wyeth spokesman Chris Garland said before Perry issued a gag order against the two sides in the case. "Despite what plaintiff's lawyers may say, medical experts will testify that the cause cannot be pinpointed."
"The risk of breast cancer associated with hormone therapy is actually lower than the risk of developing a brain hemorrhage from taking aspirin," Garland said.