Supreme Court allows class-action lawsuit against U.S. drug maker

OTTAWA – The Supreme Court of Canada has cleared the way for a class-action lawsuit against the U.S. maker of hormone-replacement drugs that have been blamed for causing breast cancer.

The court, without giving reasons, declined Thursday to hear an appeal from Wyeth-Ayerst International, which contends a Canadian court has no jurisdiction over a foreign company.

Hundreds of British Columbia women claim they got breast cancer after taking the drugs Premarin and Premplus, which are designed to ease symptoms of menopause.

Dianna Stanway of Sechelt, B.C., is the lead plaintiff in the case, which must now be certified in court as a class-action.

The court’s refusal to consider Wyeth-Ayerst’s appeal effectively upholds a December 2009 ruling in the British Columbia Court of Appeal, which declined to release the American firm from potential liability.

The ruling paved the way for the American defendant to be named in the class action, alongside its smaller Canadian counterpart, Wyeth Canada

The appeal court concluded that naming the U.S. firm in the action ensures that a fuller picture will emerge about what Wyeth-Ayerst knew about the drug and what it publicly revealed.

Premarin and Premplus were widely consumed by North American women to alleviate such symptoms as hot flashes and night sweats, until studies linked the drug to breast cancer in 2002.

Wyeth-Ayerst faces similar lawsuits in the United States.

Stanway alleges that the firm and its Canadian subsidiary are responsible for negligent manufacturing, testing, marketing, labelling, distribution, promotion, and sales of Premarin and Premplus in British Columbia and elsewhere, and that they failed to warn about the dangers of the drugs.

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