Settlement in suit on pregnancy drug
WALTHAM -- 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.
The settlement gave hope to the McCormack sisters, another Bay State family, affected by the drug.
Neither Eli Lilly nor lawyers for the four women would disclose the financial terms of the settlement, which was announced on the second day of testimony during a federal trial in Boston.
Eli 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 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.
The news of the settlement gave hope to the McCormack family in Waltham.
“The doctor said, ‘we should do something about these contractions, it’s far too soon, too early to deliver,’ so that was how I happened to be on DES,” said Arline McCormack, who took DES when she was pregnant.
“So the huge amounts of estrogen changed the genetics of my body and therefore, I developed breast cancer,” said Arline’s daughter (whose name is also Arline). “I do feel a lot of anger towards Lilly. I mean, that produced a drug that was basically a human experiment.”
Only the eldest sister was not exposed.
There was no DES on the market when my mother was carrying me,” she said.
Arline, the sister most severely affected, decided to sue Eli Lilly along with 51 other women nationwide.
She doesn’t know when her case will reach trial, or if it will.
“I feel angry for what I watched my sister go through,” said Christine McCormack-Pesta.
“I would love to see Lilly say, ‘I am sorry to all of you for using you as a human experiment,’ and that would really help me and I think it would help the millions of other women who have been exposed,” Arline McCormack said.
Studies later showed the drug did not prevent miscarriages.
DES was not patented and was made by many companies.
Thousands of lawsuits have been filed alleging links between DES and vaginal cancer, cervical cancer and fertility problems. Many of those cases were settled.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.