Various US press agencies have reported that a jury in Nevada has instructed Wyeth Pharmaceuticals Inc to pay 134.5 million dollars in compensatory damages to three women who claimed the company’s hormone therapy drugs caused their breast cancer.

According to the Wall Street Journal, plaintiffs Arlene Rowatt, Jeraldine Scofield and Pamela Forrester were each awarded around one third (43.5, 47.5 and 43.5 million dollars respectively) of the total sum as compensatory damages. The jury found Wyeth acted with “fraud or malice”, was negligent, and concealed a “material fact” about the safety of the drugs which the jury also said were defective.

The jury took 12 hours to find that the company’s HRT drug Prempro contributed to the development of breast cancer in the three women, said a Bloomberg press report earlier this morning.

Neither party has commented on the case as it is still ongoing and a further hearing on punitive damages is still outstanding, scheduled for today.

The lawsuit (case number CV04-01699 – C. MCCREARY; ETAL VS. WYETH PHARMACEUTICAL; ETAL -Jury Trial) was first filed in July 2004, and is being held before a jury in Reno, at the Second Judicial District Court, State of Nevada, Washoe County.

The lawsuit is said to be one in over 5,000 cases that have been filed against the drug company by 7,900 plaintiffs alleging personal injury from using one or more of their hormone therapy and estrogen therapy drugs for treating the symptoms of menopause. The drugs include Prempro and Premarin.

According to CNN money, the company said 20 cases have gone to trial before this one. Three cases reached verdicts that favoured the drug company, two were set aside, three were summarily dismissed, and 12 were settled before trial.

Lawyers commenting in the Wall Street Journal said that the drug maker argued that they had warned users of Prempro about the increased risk of breast cancer. A law school professor also told the paper it was common for large damage awards to be reduced, but it was “scary to know juries don’t like your argument” when there are thousands of cases still to be tried.

According to an Associated Press (AP) report, the women testified during the four week trial that they started taken Premarin for estrogen replacement and Prempro, a combination of estrogen and progestin, to help treat the symptoms of menopause. They were taken off the drugs when they showed signs of breast cancer.

Wyeth lawyers said that the drugs were not dangerous and were still on the market. They had been through trials on breast cancer risk, carried detailed warning labels about the risks, and had been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Carol McCreary, the fourth plaintiff in the case and the first name on the lawsuit case title, died from breast cancer earlier this year. She was 59 and was first diagnosed with the disease in 2001 after taking Prempro for 33 months, said the AP report. It is thought that Wyeth reached an out of court settlement with her last year.

Click here for Wall Street Journal report “Wyeth Hit With $134.5 Million Verdict”.

Written by: Catharine Paddock