Women Join Suit Over Prempro - Tribune-Star - July 26, 2002

By: Melissa Vogt
Tribune-Star
July 26, 2002

More than 50 Wabash Valley women, with the help of a local law firm, are joining a class-action lawsuit against the maker of Prempro, a combination hormone treatment for menopause symptoms. The lawsuit, filed July 15 in a federal court in Chicago, is in its early stages, said Terre Haute attorney Joseph Anderson.

Attorney-client privilege prevents Anderson from naming the women who have contacted his firm. But he said at least 20 say they have Prempro-related health complications.

"Some people are just nervous because they took it so long," he said.

The law firm of Anderson and Nichols, 300 Ohio Street, is collecting information about local women who have used Prempro, and forwarding their claims to a Chicago firm.

"Our issue is the drug never should have been marketed," said Michael O'Meara, attorney at Kenneth B. Moll & Associates in Chicago.

Prempro is a hormone replacement made by Wyeth Pharmaceuticals that combines doses of estrogen and progestin in tablet form.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration first approved Prempro in 1996. About 2.7 million women are taking Prempro today, according to Wyeth Pharmaceuticals.

Hormone replacement therapy surfaced in news reports on July 9 when the National Institutes of Health decided to abandon a study of the effects of hormone replacement therapy - three years before the study's original finish date.

Researchers found that women who took estrogen and progestin had statistically significant higher rates of breast cancer, heart attacks, strokes and blood clots in the lungs and legs than those who took placebos.

Prempro was used as the combination hormone drug in the study.

Wyeth denies any problems with Prempro.

"We don't believe there is any legal or factual basis for the claims in the lawsuits filed against Wyeth related to Prempro and the Women's Health Initiative study," spokeswoman Natalie de Vane said.

Kenneth Moll & Associates is not the only firm representing people suing Wyeth. An Internet search of "Prempro" on Google's Web site yields at least eight law firms advertising their services, including Moll. But Moll may be one of the most well-known.

Moll's firm has led class-action lawsuits against silicone gel breast implants, fen-phen diet drugs and Bridgestone/Firestone tires. Pharmaceutical makers have increasingly come under the firm's guns, as it has gone after the anti-depressant Serzone, anti-cholesterol drug Baycol and diet drug Meridia.

The firm contends Prempro is a "dangerous and defective product," O'Meara said.

He said the firm started investigating Prempro in April after being contacted by a group of women who claimed to have suffered after they took Prempro. In July, the firm filed its suit against Wyeth in U.S. District Court for the Northeastern Division of Illinois.

The lawsuit accuses Wyeth of not properly testing Prempro before it went on the market, leaving women vulnerable to potentially deadly side effects.

One plaintiff, Gayle Lewers of Lake Zurich, Ill., claims she developed five breast tumors - one malignant - after using Prempro daily for three years.

The suit asks the court to establish past and current Prempro users as a class of victims eligible for personal-injury payments and reimbursement for money spent buying the drug.

An estimated 6 million American women use a hormone replacement therapy, according to the lawsuit. Women who have had a hysterectomy generally use an estrogen-only treatment.

The lawsuit also asks the court to make Wyeth fund ongoing testing of women who used Prempro but haven't yet shown any adverse effects.

Anderson said his Terre Haute firm has just recently started helping clients in cases against pharmaceutical companies.

"Class actions against any national Fortune 500 company requires a large staff and expertise," he said.

He said Kenneth Moll & Associates has that kind of expertise.

Wyeth Pharmaceuticals is a branch of Wyeth Inc. Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, with headquarters in Collegeville, Penn., has 49 manufacturing facilities in 27 locations around the world.

Wyeth brands include Advil headache pills, Centrum vitamins and Robitussin cold medicine.

The lawsuit claims Prempro sales exceeded $949 million during the year ending in May.