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Healthy Skepticism Library item: 16949

Warning: This library includes all items relevant to health product marketing that we are aware of regardless of quality. Often we do not agree with all or part of the contents.


Publication type: news

O’Reilly C, Feeley J
Pfizer Seeks Prempro Video’s Removal From Internet (Update2) 2009 Dec 15


link to video:

Full text:

Pfizer Inc. asked a judge to order the removal of an Internet video about its menopause medicines that the company says is misleading and aimed at swaying potential jurors in future trials over the pills.

The video, posted by plaintiffs’ lawyers who recently won more than $78 million in damages in a Pennsylvania trial over Pfizer’s Prempro hormone-replacement drug, violates state legal- ethics rules and threatens the integrity of pending cases, Pfizer’s attorneys said in a court filing. The video, titled “Prempro News Segment,” is posted to the Web site.

“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.

Jury Award

The video was posted to the Internet after a Philadelphia jury’s award of $78.7 million in damages to Connie Barton was unsealed last month. Barton sued Wyeth claiming its menopause drugs helped cause her breast cancer.

Zoe Littlepage, one of Barton’s lawyers, produced the video and had her staff post it to YouTube, Pfizer’s lawyers contend in the filing to Judge Sandra Moss, who is overseeing all litigation over the menopause drugs in Philadelphia state court.

The five-minute video has been viewed more than 1,300 times on Google Inc.’s YouTube Web site. In it, breast-cancer victims discuss their cases in a news magazine format while Littlepage and the attorneys, speaking to an unidentified, off-camera interviewer, accuse Wyeth of minimizing the risks of Prempro.

“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.

‘Public Record’

“You can’t bias a jury with the truth,” Littlepage said in an interview today. “Everything that’s in that video is in the public record.”

The Houston-based plaintiffs’ lawyers said the segment was produced by a group of lawyers who have Prempro suits pending against Pfizer. They made the video to spare Barton the burden of multiple TV interviews after the total amount of her verdicts were unsealed, Littlepage said.

Moss had sealed the jury’s $75 million punitive-damage award against Wyeth until another Prempro case being tried in the same courthouse concluded in November.

Wyeth has lost six of nine jury verdicts, including the last four in a row, over the drugs. All the verdicts are being challenged at the post-trial state or on appeal.

About 35 Prempro cases have been set for trial so far, and 19 have been thrown out by judges or withdrawn by plaintiffs, according to Pfizer officials. Wyeth also has settled at least five cases over the drugs.

Ethics Rules

Pfizer’s lawyers say that Pennsylvania rules governing lawyer ethics prohibit lawyers from making pre-trial statements to the press that could “prejudice” an upcoming case.

“As plaintiffs counsel is well aware, the Internet is a widely accessed public domain and there is no doubt that most potential jurors regularly” use it, the company’s lawyers said in the filing.

That means potential jurors are likely to view the video and “substantial prejudice would result from the inaccurate, misleading and inflammatory” material it contains, they said.

Oscar Chase, a professor of legal ethics at New York University School of Law in Manhattan, said a lawyer’s use of YouTube videos to promote his or her case isn’t all that different from a press release.

“We might say it is typical lawyer grandstanding,” Chase said in an interview. “The danger of jury tainting is outweighed by the public’s right to know.”

Still, Chase said, lawyers need to make clear what the source is for the information and opinions in the videos.

“There is a duty, or should be a duty, that it be made clear this is offered by the firm,” Chase said. “The news media can then decide how to use it, and whether to get a response” from the defendant, he said.

Pfizer fell 11 cents to $18.29 on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares have risen 3.3 percent this year.

The Barton case is Barton v. Wyeth Pharmaceuticals Inc., 040406301, Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania.


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