Lilly first to defend against DES litigation

Fifty to 80 years ago, the synthetic estrogen DES was commonly prescribed to women who were at risk for miscarriage and premature births. Now dozens of their daughters who have developed breast cancer are suing drugmakers, saying that DES was ineffective for stopping miscarriages, but doubled their own chances of getting cancer.

The many companies that made the drug and are now being sued have denied any connection. But the first case to test the premise is slated to go to trial today in federal court in Boston, The Associated Press reports. Eli Lilly ($LLY) is the defendant in this case brought by four sisters, all of whom have been treated for breast cancer. Lilly denies the charges and has claimed in documents that there are not even any medical records to prove their mother took the drug. The mother and her doctor are both dead.

The FDA had doctors stop using the drug on pregnant women in 1971 when a study tied it to a rare form of vaginal cancer for daughters of those who had taken it, the AP reports. And a study in 2011 suggested that daughters over 40 whose mothers were treated with DES are twice as likely to develop breast cancer as those whose mothers did not. 

Of course, Lilly is no stranger to litigation alleging it downplayed health risks of its drugs. In 2008 it paid $1.2 billion to settle some 31,000 cases claiming it downplayed the risks of its schizophrenia drug Zyprexa. It also settled federal off-label marketing probes for $1.42 billion and state claims for $260 million for that drug. Lilly has won some of those cases as well. 

- read the Associated Press story