LITTLE ROCK – A federal jury on Friday rejected an Arkansas woman's claim that Wyeth and its hormone-replacement drugs, which she took for eight years, were responsible for her breast cancer.
Linda Reeves' lawsuit was the first of about 4,500 against Wyeth to go to court. During the four-week trial, Reeves acknowledged not reading information supplied with the drug and said she left it up to her doctor to decide whether it was appropriate to treat symptoms of menopause.
The lawsuit said Wyeth failed to act responsibly. Wyeth lawyers told jurors that the benefits of Prempro and a similar drug, Premarin, outweighed the risks and said the drug company had informed both Reeves and her doctor of the risks associated with the drugs.
Reeves, 67, took one or the other of the drugs before being diagnosed in 2000 with a cancerous tumor in her right breast. She initially took Premarin, a form of estrogen, and her doctor soon added progestin to her daily regimen. She switched to Prempro in 1995, which for the first time combined Premarin and progestin in one pill.
After her cancer diagnosis, Reeves had a mastectomy and chemotherapy. She has been cancer-free since.
When the verdict was read, Reeves and one of her daughters immediately left the courtroom in tears. Zoe Littlepage, an attorney for Reeves, said outside the courtroom that she was disappointed with the ruling and said she didn't know why the jury ruled against Reeves.
"It's a very sad day for the Reeves family. They deserved better than this. They deserved justice from this company," Littlepage said.
Lyn Pruitt, an attorney for Wyeth, said outside court that the verdict showed Wyeth acted responsibly.
"We believe it shows that this jury and this jurisdiction properly decided that the benefits of this product outweigh the risks," Pruitt said.
Littlepage had argued throughout the trial that Wyeth ignored years of research that she said indicated a link between Prempro and cancer. In closing arguments, another Reeves lawyer said that if Prempro hadn't triggered her breast cancer, it certainly promoted it.
He argued that jurors had to find only that the drugs promoted the cancer's growth.
"This is what these drugs do," lawyer Rainey Booth said Monday. "They promote the seed that's there and they help it grow. ... You take away the water and sunshine, you take away the growth."
But Wyeth lawyers said they adequately informed Reeves and her doctor and supplied patient-information sheets to doctors and patients. Reeves said she didn't read the information.
Premarin is a form of estrogen; its sister drug, Prempro, is a combination of estrogen and progestin. The drugs are used to treat women going through menopause to ease symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats.
During the trial, Wyeth attorney Jane Bockus said the drug was the most effective treatment for Reeves available at the time. "There was nothing else on the market that was as valuable for the prevention of osteoporosis," Bockus said. "There was no other drug on the market."
Documents filed with the court last month showed that Dr. David Caldwell had prescribed hormone-replacement therapy for more than 20 years and believed it was an appropriate treatment for Reeves. The documents also said that Caldwell was scheduled to speak to other doctors on the company's behalf five times but did so only twice. He received $3,000 in honoraria.
Caldwell said he still prescribes Prempro to his patients.
Wyeth recently reached more than $21 billion in settlements for lawsuits over another drug combination, fen-phen, which was prescribed as a diet drug. Analysts have said they don't think Wyeth's hormone-replacement therapy settlements will be nearly as high as the fen-phen cases.