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Here Come the Legal Wranglings Over Prempro: Law Firms’ Web Sites Seek Affected Women - USA Today - July 22, 2002

By: Rita Rubin
USA Today
July 22, 2002

Law firms across the country are rushing to capitalize on the just-released findings of a government study that links a top- selling brand of postmenopausal hormones with increased risks of health problems.

Less than a week after scientists announced that Prempro, a top- selling brand of postmenopausal hormones, caused more harm than good, at least two law firms filed complaints seeking a judge's certification for class-action lawsuits against Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, the drug's maker.

Those firms and several others have revamped their Web sites to attract women who think their health problems stem from taking Prempro. Type 'Prempro' into the Google Internet search engine and 'sponsored links' by some of the law firms will pop up.

'The first morning after we filed, we had a bank of six phones just lit up constantly all day long,' says Hal Kleinman, a lawyer with a Chicago firm that filed a lawsuit Monday.

Researchers halted the government study three years early because women on Prempro, a combination of estrogen and progestin, were more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer, heart attacks, strokes and blood clots in the legs or lungs than women on a placebo.

Wyeth spokeswoman Natalie de Vane describes the lawsuits as baseless. 'We don't believe there is any legal or factual basis for the claims filed against Wyeth related to Prempro' and the government study, de Vane says.

Even if plaintiffs have a valid claim, it will be difficult to prove, says Boston lawyer Michael Hugo, chair of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America's section on toxic, environmental and pharmaceutical law.

'I think you have such common ailments that are suffered by so much of society . . . that it's going to be difficult in many cases to pin it on the Prempro,' says Hugo, whose firm has been contacted by more than 100 people looking to sue Wyeth over Prempro.

One plaintiff in the suit filed by Kleinman's firm in U.S. District Court had taken Prempro for only five months ending in March. She has since been diagnosed with breast cancer. (The government study did not find an increased risk of breast cancer in Prempro users until the fourth year of treatment.)

Another plaintiff, who had been taking Prempro since 1996, is healthy but wants Wyeth to pay for medical monitoring.

'We're not saying take the drug off the market,' Kleinman says. 'If you're going to put a drug on the marketplace, you had better thoroughly test it.'

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