For Pfizer, 5,000 lawsuits resolved, 5,000 to go

Pfizer initially faced more than 10,000 lawsuits claiming that its hormone replacement drugs such as Prempro and Premarin cause breast cancer. But the world's largest drugmaker ($PFE) has now settled about half of them and set aside more money geared toward some of the remaining claims.

The company added $68 million to a $772 million fund, disclosed in May, that it set aside to address the cases, said Pfizer in a recent regulatory filing updating its response to the ongoing legal actions, and Bloomberg highlighted some of the more interesting details. The suits affect Pfizer and its Wyeth, Pharmacia & Upjohn units. Pfizer said it recorded a $260 million charge through the first nine months of 2011 to address "minimum expected costs" toward resolving the remaining cases.

Wyeth (acquired by Pfizer in 2009) originally developed Premarin, an estrogen-based drug. Pfizer's Upjohn unit makes Provera, which has progestin. Women used both together until 1999 to relieve menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and mood swings, and Wyeth combined both hormones in its Prempro pill.

Prempro, which is still on the market, reached more than 6 million women and generated more than $2 billion in sales before a National Institutes of Health study in 2002 challenged its safety. The NIH connected the use of hormone replacement therapy in menopausal women to breast cancer, the Bloomberg article notes.

Pfizer's track record in court has been mixed. Bloomberg points out that Wyeth and Upjohn lost 10 of 18 Prempro-related jury trials since 2006. Some of the verdicts have been thrown out, however, or plaintiffs have had their awards slashed. Others were resolved through settlements. Pfizer has also tried to minimize the financial damage by settling at least one case before juries were asked to decide punitive damages beyond a compensatory award.

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