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This week, a Philadelphia jury ruled that drug giants Wyeth and Upjohn, both owned by Pfizer, are liable for at least $6.3 million in damages because their hormone replacement therapy drugs played a significant causal role an Illinois woman’s breast cancer.

The drugs, Wyeth’s Prempro and Pharmacia & Upjohn’s Provera, are used to treat menopause symptoms including hot flashes, night sweats and mood swings. Donna Kendall, 66, took them for 11 years before having to have a double mastectomy.

In 2002, when Prempro sales were more than $2 billion, a federal study found that women who used Prempro and similar drugs had an increased risk of breast cancer.

Nearly a year ago, we learned that Wyeth paid ghostwriters to produce fraudulent articles in medical journals praising Prempro. Wyeth also kept the ghostwriters’ role in the articles a secret from the medical journal editors and readers. Disturbingly, at least one Wyeth-sponsored positive article was published after the federal study citing Prempro as a breast cancer risk.

Juries are paying attention, and this is good.

In Kendall’s case, jurors concluded Wyeth and Upjohn officials failed to adequately warn Kendall’s doctors about the drugs’ cancer risks and that failure played a role in the physicians’ decision to prescribe the drugs.

The panel also found Wyeth’s and Upjohn’s conduct in marketing and selling the drugs was hiding health risks was “wanton and reckless.” That makes the companies open to a punitive-damage award under Pennsylvania law. –Bloomberg

Since 2006, Wyeth has lost six out of nine jury verdicts. Thus far, at least 34 cases involving Prempro are set for trial, and Wyeth has settled at least five cases over hormone replacement therapy drugs.

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