Wyeth Sued by Former Fen-Phen Users Over Lung Disease

Chicago Tribune Wyeth Sued by Former Fen-Phen Users Over Lung Disease (Update1)
Chicago Tribune,
December 5, 2006.

by Jef Feeley

Wyeth was sued by five women who claim the fen-phen diet combination caused them to develop an often-fatal lung disease at least eight years after they stopped taking the drugs.

Renee Tedesco of Paramus, New Jersey, says in one of the complaints filed today in state court in Philadelphia that she was diagnosed in April with primary pulmonary hypertension, 10 years after she began using fen-phen. Wyeth has set aside more than $21 billion to resolve litigation over the diet aids since pulling them off the market in 1997.

Wyeth officials engaged in a "knowingly false campaign of misinformation and disinformation" about whether the drugs Pondimin and Redux can cause the lung disease, known as PPH, years after a user stopped taking them, Tedesco's lawyers said in the complaint.

The lawsuits challenge Wyeth's assertion that health risks linked to fen-phen persist only a year after use ends. Wyeth, based in Madison, New Jersey, has said it resolved almost all of the 175,000 claims by former fen-phen users, most of them alleging the drugs caused heart problems, through a national settlement and deals with individuals.

PPH Not Covered

The original $3.75 billion settlement program didn't cover PPH claims. The company last month told the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that it faced 95 PPH suits as of Oct. 15 and more might be filed.

Doug Petkus, a Wyeth spokesman, couldn't immediately be reached to comment.

Shares of Wyeth rose 46 cents to $49.78 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading at 12:06 p.m. They have risen 8.1 percent this year, valuing the company at $67 billion.

Former fen-phen users contend that Wyeth officials hid the health risks of fen-phen to protect sales. Users combined the generic phentermine with Pondimin or Redux to suppress their appetites. Doctors wrote more than 6 million prescriptions for the combination before researchers linked it to heart-valve damage and PPH, prompting Wyeth to yank it off the market.

Tedesco, 53, the wife of Paramus Mayor James Tedesco, underwent a dual-lung transplant last month "to address her then near-fatal condition," the complaint said. Her lawyers are Alex MacDonald of Boston and Kenneth Rothweiler of Philadelphia.

'Science Fiction'

A French study of 674 PPH patients in May found that almost 10 percent had taken appetite suppressants, including the drugs sold as Pondimin and Redux in the U.S., according to Tedesco's complaint. Of them, two-thirds exhibited PPH symptoms at least two years after they stopped taking the combination, the complaint said.

"Wyeth's reliance on medical-science fiction is a disingenuous effort to curtail its financial and legal obligations to individuals and families," Tedesco's lawyers said in court papers.

MacDonald and Rothweiler also are representing the four other women suing Wyeth over PPH claims: Helen Hill, 68, of Hobart, Indiana; Barbara Anderson, 63, of Waukegan, Illinois; Joan Yovich, 71, of South Holland, Illinois; and Linda Channels, 56, of Elkins, West Virginia.

Juries have ruled against Wyeth over PPH claims in the past. A Philadelphia jury said in August that a Michigan woman's PPH was caused by fen-phen and she deserved $300,000 in compensation. Wyeth later settled the case for an undisclosed amount.

In 2004, a Texas jury awarded more than $1 billion to the family of a woman who died of PPH after taking the fen-phen combination for about two years. Wyeth settled the case in June for an undisclosed amount.

Wyeth said in a Nov. 6 SEC filing that it had more than $3 billion left in its fen-phen reserve. The company has added money to the reserve at least three times since 2001.

The case is Renee Tedesco and James Tedesco v. Wyeth, Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas (Philadelphia).

With reporting by Dawn McCarty in Wilmington, Delaware.