Pregnant mares’ urine biz wins case after big losses
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2010:
NEW YORK, N.Y.– New York State Supreme Court Justice Martin
Shulman on December 16, 2009 threw out 23 lawsuits brought by breast
cancer victims against the makers of hormone supplements synthesized
from pregnant mare’s urine.
“While plaintiffs’ proffered evidence is extensive, a review
of the material and the record as a whole contain no evidence of
fraud, misrepresentation or deception,” Shulman wrote in dismissing
the cases before any of them went to trial.
The verdict appeared to blunt the economic impact of recent
jury awards totaling more than $165 million against the PMU
industry–and appeared to vindicate the Pfizer Inc. strategy of
consolidating and defending the industry, even as new scientific
findings strengthened the association of PMU-based hormone
supplements with an elevated risk of breast cancer.
The number of prescriptions written for Prempro and other
PMU-based supplements dropped from 61 million in 2001 to just 21
million in 2004, after the the federally funded Women’s Health
Initiative recognized the risk in 2002, halting a long-term study of
the effects of taking the top-selling hormone drug Prempro.
The Women’s Health Initiative warned study participants that
continuing to take Prempro might increase their risk of contracting
breast cancer. “Subsequent research also linked the pill to a higher
rate of death from lung cancer,” summarized John Fauber of the
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
University of Wisconsin at Madison researchers told delegates
to the 2009 American Association for Cancer Research annual
conference in Houston that after the Women’s Health Initiative
findings were publicized, “invasive breast cancer rates unexpectedly
dropped from 138 per 100,000 women in 2001, to 125 per 100,000 in
2003,” Fauber wrote. “Using a mathematical model, they found that
42% of the decline in invasive breast cancer from 2002 to 2003, or
6,000 cases, was due to less use of hormones.”
The number of pregnant mares kept confined for six months a
year in urine collection stalls is believed to have dropped by about
half, after a decade of attempts by animal advocacy organizations to
boycott PMU drugs had little evident effect. PMU industry sources
claim that the drop in demand for horse estrogen led to use of
smaller horses than the draft breeds previously used, and that
breeders are now trying to produce foals who have market value other
than just for slaughter, but this is difficult to verify.
Prior to the Shulman verdict the momentum of court decisions
appeared to favor the plaintiffs. A Pennsylvania jury, for example,
on November 20, 2009 ordered the hormone drug makers Wyeth and
Pharmacia-Upjohn to pay compensatory damages of $6.3 million to
women who contracted breast cancer after taking the products. On
November 23 the same jury assessed $75 million in punitive damages
against the companies. A day later a jury in Decatur, Illinois
awarded $28 million to plaintiff Donna Kendall.
To that point, reported Jef Feeley and Sopia Pearson of
Bloomberg News, 35 lawsuits over health effects of PMU drugs had
gone to trial. Six of the nine most recent to go before juries
brought verdicts for the plaintiffs, but 19 cases were dismissed or
withdrawn. At least five cases were settled out of court. A $99
million award by a Reno jury in 2007 “was later reduced to $35
million and is being appealed,” Feeley and Pearson wrote. An
Arkansas federal jury award of $27 million was dismissed in early
2009. The case was scheduled for retrial.
As many as 10,000 PMU supplement cases are reportedly pending.
PMU-based hormone supplements were made and sold chiefly by
Wyeth Inc. from 1942 until January 2009, when Pfizer, the world’s
largest pharmaceutical firm, bought Wyeth and whatever liability it
might have for $68 billion. The deal was formally completed on
October 15, 2009. Pfizer also bought Pharmacia-Upjohn, the
longtime maker of Provera, an estrogen drug often combined with the