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Pfizer unit loses suit over menopause drug

WILMINGTON, Del. -- A Pfizer Inc. unit failed to properly warn a New Jersey woman about the cancer risk of its hormone-replacement drug Provera and should pay $1.5 million in damages, jurors said in the first trial over the menopause treatment.

A Philadelphia jury deliberated more than six hours yesterday before finding Pharmacia & Upjohn didn't adequately warn women about Provera's breast cancer risk. Jurors also ruled that Wyeth did properly warn of the risks of its hormone drugs Premarin and Prempro. It was Wyeth's third win in six trials over the drugs.

Merle Simon's claims are the first to go to trial over Provera against the unit of New York-based Pfizer, the world's largest drug maker. The drug, on the market since 1959, was developed by Upjohn, which Pfizer acquired in 2003 along with Pharmacia Corp.

Pfizer's lawyers said they'd appeal the jury's decision.

"We don't believe the verdict is supported by the evidence or medical science," Jim Pagliaro, a lawyer representing Upjohn, said in an interview after the verdict.

Simon's lawsuit was one of at least 5,000 pending against Madison, N.J-based Wyeth over its hormone-replacement drugs, including Prempro and Premarin. Simon is among as many as 6 million women who took the pills to treat menopause symptoms such as hot flashes and mood swings before a 2002 study highlighted their links to cancer. Pfizer spokesman Bryant Haskins said earlier the company hasn't disclosed how many Provera cases it faces.

The Women's Health Initiative study, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, concluded women who took a combination of estrogen and progestin, as found in Prempro, had a 24 percent higher risk than others of getting invasive breast cancer.

The company recognized the association "long before the WHI study" and noted it on labels, a Wyeth spokesman said in March.

Until 1996, many menopausal women combined Premarin, which contained estrogen, with Provera, which contains progestin, to relieve their symptoms. In 1996, Wyeth combined the two substances in its Prempro pill.

Simon took the Premarin-Provera combination starting in 1992 and switched to Prempro in 1996, her lawyer, Jim Morris, told jurors. She stopped taking the drugs after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002, he said.

Morris argued that neither Wyeth nor Upjohn properly warned Simon that she risked breast cancer by taking the treatments.

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