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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. In reality, Lilly is maintaining profit by cutting costs such as Indiana/US citizen IT workers by a significant amount with their Tata Indian consulting connection, increasing Indian H1B's at Lillys Indiana locations significantly and offshoring to India high paying Indiana jobs to cut costs and increase profit at the expense of U.S. workers.

  2. I think perhaps there is legal precedence here in that the laws were intended for family farms, not pig processing plants on a huge scale. There has to be a way to squash this judges judgment and overrule her dumb judgement. Perhaps she should be required to live in one of those neighbors houses for a month next to the farm to see how she likes it. She is there to protect the people, not the corporations.

  3. http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/engineer/facts/03-111.htm Corporate farms are not farms, they are indeed factories on a huge scale. The amount of waste and unhealthy smells are environmentally unsafe. If they want to do this, they should be forced to buy a boundary around their farm at a premium price to the homeowners and landowners that have to eat, sleep, and live in a cesspool of pig smells. Imagine living in a house that smells like a restroom all the time. Does the state really believe they should take the side of these corporate farms and not protect Indiana citizens. Perhaps justifiable they should force all the management of the farms to live on the farm itself and not live probably far away from there. Would be interesting to investigate the housing locations of those working at and managing the corporate farms.

  4. downtown in the same area as O'malia's. 350 E New York. Not sure that another one could survive. I agree a Target is needed d'town. Downtown Philly even had a 3 story Kmart for its downtown residents.

  5. Indy-area residents... most of you have no idea how AMAZING Aurelio's is. South of Chicago was a cool pizza place... but it pales in comparison to the heavenly thin crust Aurelio's pizza. Their deep dish is pretty good too. My waistline is expanding just thinking about this!

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