A federal lawsuit filed by four sisters against Eli Lilly and Co. is expected to start trial today. The sisters all developed breast cancer in their 40’s from what they claim was caused by a drug their mother took during pregnancy.
The drug, diethylstilbestrol (DES), is a synthetic estrogen that doctors prescribed to millions of pregnant women to prevent miscarriages, premature births and other problems between the late 1930s and early 1970s. However, studies later proved that DES did not prevent miscarriages.
Although each of the four sisters developed breast cancer at the same age, they say a fifth sister did not develop breast cancer because their mother did not take DES during that pregnancy. They are seeking unspecified damages from Eli Lilly in U.S. District Court.
There are 51 other women who have filed similar DES lawsuits in the U.S. against more than a dozen different drug companies that made DES. However, the case involving the four sisters’ is the first to go to trial.
Meanwhile, the drug companies insist that no firm link has been established between breast cancer and DES, the drug was eventually taken off the market after it was linked to a rare vaginal cancer in women whose mothers had taken DES.
As for Eli Lilly, the company argues in court documents that there is no evidence that the mother of the four sisters' even took DES. Both the mother and her doctor are deceased – and, according to a spokesman for Eli Lilly, there are no medical records documenting the mother's treatment. Accordingly, Eli Lilly believes the sisters' claims are without merit and is prepared to defend against them vigorously.
The trial is expected to last several weeks.