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Wyeth wins verdict in fen-phen suit

Wyeth, makers of the fen-phen diet drugs, isn't responsible for the heart problems that three Utah women blamed on the drugs, a Philadelphia jury said.

Jurors Monday rejected damage claims by Lee Ann Brunson, 55, Colleen Rondas, 62 and Lonnie Zimmerman, 55, after a seven-day trial in Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. Wyeth has won three fen-phen cases before the city's juries this year and lost two.

"Their short-term use did not cause heart disease," Robert Limbacher, a Wyeth lawyer with the Philadelphia firm Dechert, said during closing arguments. "They have perfectly normal heart function."

Wyeth, based in Madison, New Jersey, has set aside more than $21 billion in reserves to defend and resolve litigation over claims that its Pondimin and Redux drugs caused heart-valve damage. The company, with $17.3 billion in sales last year, makes the Effexor antidepressant, Enbrel arthritis drug and Protonix heartburn treatment.

"These women all have heart damage and the plaque keeps growing," Stephen McCarthy, a lawyer with the Houston firm of Blizzard, McCarthy & Nabers, told jurors in his final argument. "Wyeth's silence is deafening."

Doug Petkus, a spokesman for Wyeth, said the company was "pleased with the verdict." Other former fen-phen users whose claims were set to go to trial dropped their suits, he said.

Wyeth is seeking to wrap up eight years of fen-phen litigation. The company pulled Pondimin and Redux from the market in 1997 after researchers linked them to heart damage in some users and a fatal lung disease in others.

The Philadelphia cases involve former fen-phen users who declined to participate in the company's $3.75 billion national settlement of diet-drug suits and chose to go to trial.

The largest verdict in a fen-phen case came last year in Texas, where a state court jury awarded more than $1 billion to the family of a 41-year-old woman who died from a lung disease linked to the diet drugs.

In May, another Philadelphia jury decided that two other former Wyeth drug users deserved a total of $200 million for heart damage caused by the medicine. A judge set aside that verdict and the case was settled "for far less" than that amount, Petkus said.

Steven J. Kherkher, another Houston lawyer who represented the Utah women, said he's preparing to try other fen-phen cases next month in Philadelphia.

"We won $200 million and we lost this one," Kherkher said. "So what are you going to do? Get back on your horse and that's what we'll do."

Wyeth shares fell 27 cents to $44.42 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading at 3:01 p.m. The stock has risen 4.3 percent this year, valuing the company at about $59.7 billion.