Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has asked a judge to order that a video be take off YouTube, saying it could prejudice juries in upcoming court cases.
It's the latest twist for a company caught for months in allegations of ghostwriting.
The video, entitled Prempro News Segment, was made by the law firm behind a $78 million (US) court-ordered settlement in the fall of a lawsuit brought against the company. The Philadelphia jury found that Wyeth, a division of Pfizer, failed to warn women that taking its hormone drug Prempro could cause breast cancer.
“Plaintiff’s counsel should be compelled to remove this video from the Internet and refrain from making any further inflammatory and prejudicial public statements” until the litigation is resolved, Pfizer’s lawyers said in a motion filed yesterday in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court.
More than 6 million women have taken hormone-replacement medicines to treat menopause symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats and mood swings. Until 1995, many patients combined Premarin, an estrogen-based drug made by Pfizer’s Wyeth unit, with progestin-laden Provera, made by Upjohn, another subsidiary of Pfizer, the world’s largest drugmaker.
Wyeth scientists later combined the two hormones in its Prempro pill. The drugs are still on the market. New York-based Pfizer completed its $68 billion purchase of Wyeth in October.
The video was produced by lawyer Zoe Littlepage, who had her staff post it to YouTube. It is made to look like a TV news segment. In it, she accuses Wyeth of hiding the drug's dangers.
“Wyeth chose to not do studies, and even worse, chose to downplay and suppress any evidence of breast cancer and these drugs,” Littlepage says on the video, which doesn’t include a response to the allegations from Pfizer.
The video also features a man identified as a jury foreman in an already-concluded trial over the menopause drugs who calls Wyeth “despicable” and declares that the company is more concerned about profit than about the health of patients.
Documents in the case, filed by Connie Barton, a medical office assistant in Peoria, Ill., have now been unsealed, and used by the New York Times to track the marketing of hormone replacement therapy to women.
The documents that have surfaced in the Wyeth cases offer a rare glimpse inside the file cabinets and hard drives of a major drug company. And the cases demonstrate the importance of litigation in detailing exactly how drug makers operate their businesses, says Dr. Jerome L. Avorn, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School who has written about the subject in The Journal of the American Medical Association.
“The information coming out in litigation helps us understand how a belief in a ‘protective benefit’ of estrogens on the heart was able to spread like wildfire through the medical community,” says Dr. Avorn, who is not involved in the Wyeth litigation.
“Thousands of doctors prescribed the drugs for millions of women on that basis,” he says, adding that studies later contradicted the belief. “It will be very interesting to see whether the courts are able to connect the dots and make it clear whether this was a kind of medical ventriloquism on Wyeth’s part.”
Chris Loder, a Pfizer spokesman, says Wyeth acted responsibly by including a clear warning about a breast cancer risk on Prempro labels and by updating the warning as new evidence emerged. He said Pfizer plans to appeal every product-liability case on menopausal drugs it loses, including Barton’s.