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Lilly settles with four sisters in DES cancer case

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Four sisters who claimed their breast cancer was caused by a drug their mother took during pregnancy in the 1950s reached a settlement Wednesday with Eli Lilly and Co. in the first of scores of similar claims around the country to go to trial.

Neither Lilly nor lawyers for the women would disclose the financial terms of the settlement, which was announced on the second day of testimony during a federal trial in Boston.

Lilly said it continues to believe its medication "did not cause the conditions alleged in this lawsuit" but the settlement was in its "best interest."

"Settling this trial helps us get back to what we want to focus on as a company; developing important new medications through research and partnerships with doctors and patients," it said in a statement.

A total of 51 women, including the Melnick sisters, filed lawsuits in Boston against more than a dozen companies that made or marketed a synthetic estrogen known as DES.

DES, or diethylstilbestrol, was prescribed to millions of pregnant women over three decades to prevent miscarriages, premature births and other problems. It was taken off the market in the early 1970s after it was linked to a rare vaginal cancer in women whose mothers used it.

Studies later showed the drug did not prevent miscarriages.

Attorney Aaron Levine, representing the Melnick sisters, told the jury during opening statements that Lilly failed to test the drug's effect on fetuses before promoting it as a way to prevent miscarriages.

Lawyer James Dillon, for Lilly, told the jury that there was no evidence the drug causes breast cancer in the daughters of women who took it.

Dillon also said that no medical records show the mother of the four Melnick sisters took DES or that, if she did take it, it was made by Lilly. Leading researchers at the time recommended that DES be used for pregnant women who had consecutive miscarriages, he said.

DES was not patented and was made by many companies.

The Melnick sisters, who grew up in Tresckow, Pa., said they all developed breast cancer in their 40s.

Levine told the jury their mother did not take DES while pregnant with a fifth sister and that sister has not developed breast cancer.

The four Melnick sisters also had miscarriages, fertility problems or other reproductive tract problems long suspected of being caused by prenatal exposure to DES. They were diagnosed with breast cancer between 1997 and 2003 and had treatments ranging from lump-removal surgery to a full mastectomy, radiation and chemotherapy.

Thousands of lawsuits have been filed alleging links between DES and vaginal cancer, cervical cancer and fertility problems. Many of those cases were settled.
Attorney Andrew Meyer, who's handled numerous medical malpractice cases, said the settlement in this case could signal settlements in other cases.

"When one settles a case, they recognize they can lose it," he said. "The reason they can lose it is because there's enough evidence for the plaintiffs to be able to win it. So it's not just optics, it isn't."

Columbus, Ohio, resident Irene Sawyer also is suing Lilly, alleging that her prenatal exposure to DES caused her breast cancer. She called the settlement "a huge victory" for DES daughters.

"The bottom line is that this company put out a drug without testing, without knowing the consequences of this drug," she said.

It's wonderful, she said, that drug companies "are starting to realize this is not right, that there are consequences."

 

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  • Seems ironic
    It just seems ironic to me that women are suing companies that made a drug that may have made it possible for them to have been born in the first place. Had their mother’s not taken the drug and the babies not been born, these suits would never have come to court. Why aren’t the vindictive women suing their parents for them being born a female and therein more likely to develop breast cancer? Is the money the win or accept as a settlement going to extend their life appreciably? I think not.
  • Do not see why the sued Lilly
    All people seem to do today is sue people and companies.It's not saying much for our society, is it? Besides, they could all just carry a cancer gene.

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  1. Those of you yelling to deport them all should at least understand that the law allows minors (if not from a bordering country) to argue for asylum. If you don't like the law, you can petition Congress to change it. But you can't blindly scream that they all need to be deported now, unless you want your government to just decide which laws to follow and which to ignore.

  2. 52,000 children in a country with a population of nearly 300 million is decimal dust or a nano-amount of people that can be easily absorbed. In addition, the flow of children from central American countries is decreasing. BL - the country can easily absorb these children while at the same time trying to discourage more children from coming. There is tension between economic concerns and the values of Judeo-Christian believers. But, I cannot see how the economic argument can stand up against the values of the believers, which most people in this country espouse (but perhaps don't practice). The Governor, who is an alleged religious man and a family man, seems to favor the economic argument; I do not see how his position is tenable under the circumstances. Yes, this is a complicated situation made worse by politics but....these are helpless children without parents and many want to simply "ship" them back to who knows where. Where are our Hoosier hearts? I thought the term Hoosier was synonymous with hospitable.

  3. Illegal aliens. Not undocumented workers (too young anyway). I note that this article never uses the word illegal and calls them immigrants. Being married to a naturalized citizen, these people are criminals and need to be deported as soon as humanly possible. The border needs to be closed NOW.

  4. Send them back NOW.

  5. deport now

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