Pfizer making deep cuts at estrogen extraction plant

Pfizer ($PFE), which faces thousands of lawsuits over hormone replacement therapies, will cut about 40% of the workforce at a Canadian plant where one of them is made.

The company says that by the end of next year it will eliminate 50 of 130 jobs at a plant in Brandon, Manitoba, where it processes conjugated estrogen from pregnant mares' urine (PMU), reports the Alberta Farmer Express. It uses the product to manufacture Premarin, a hormone replacement treatment originally developed by Wyeth, which Pfizer acquired in 2009.

Pfizer told the publication that it must always be looking for "efficiencies and cost reductions by using our resources and technology more effectively." It says the restructuring will not affect its network of about 25 horse ranchers in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, from which it buys the raw PMU.

According to Pfizer's website, Premarin is shipped globally and accounts for more than two-thirds of all estrogen prescriptions in the U.S. It says more Premarin is exported from Canada "than any other single pharmaceutical product." It doesn't mention the 10,000 lawsuits it has been fighting by women who claim that estrogen treatments were tied to their breast cancer.

The company in December said it had settled about 5,000 of 10,000 lawsuits brought on behalf of women who had taken its hormone therapy drugs Premarin, Provera and Prempro. It said in a financial filing that it had set aside about $840 million to help settle claims. That disclosure came on the heels of a settlement it reached with three women who had been awarded more than $70 million from a jury who agreed that Pfizer's estrogen treatments contributed to their getting breast cancer.

The Brandon plant was built in the 1960s and Pfizer inherited it as part of its 2009  acquisition of Wyeth. The Express says Wyeth reduced its network of PMU suppliers by half about 10 years ago after health studies identified the cancer risks associated with estrogen therapy and demand for the drugs fell off.

- read the Alberta Farmer Express story

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