Menopause, as brought to you by Big Pharma

Written by VIVIAN GRANT

NATASHA SINGER and DUFF WILSON have written a well-researched, well-documented and important article on Wyeth and its Premarin® family of drugs for the New York Times, December 12, 2009.

It is critical reading for women and horse advocates, as these drugs are potentially lethal to both women and horses.

Here is an excerpt with link to full story that has a wealth of related documents, images and video:

While Wyeth has faced periodic complaints about its blockbuster menopause drugs, the latest lawsuits have turned the company’s menopausal hormone franchise into the kind of case study dissected at Ivy League business schools. Lawyers have made some documents public in the suits, and The New York Times and the nonprofit Public Library of Science filed successful motions to unseal thousands of documents in July.

To be sure, even some doctors who think hormone therapy has risks say it is the most effective treatment for symptoms directly associated with menopause.

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.”

PREMPRO is a combination of Premarin, an estrogen drug derived from the urine of pregnant mares and first approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1942, with an additional hormone, progestin.

Part of the Premarin saga shows how a drug maker successfully and cannily expanded a franchise whose central ingredient is horse estrogens into a billion-dollar panacea for aging women. Yet several hundred pages of court documents also raise questions about another aspect of Premarin’s trajectory: how Wyeth worked over decades to maintain the image and credibility of its hormone drugs even as the products were repeatedly under siege.

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