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Pfizer Reaches $894M Painkiller Settlement

Drug giant Pfizer Inc. has reached an $894 million deal to end most of the lawsuits over its two prescription pain relievers, the popular Celebrex and a similar drug, Bextra, no longer on the market.

The world's biggest drugmaker said Friday it has agreements in principle to end more than 90 percent of personal injury lawsuits brought by people claiming the pills caused heart attacks, strokes or other harm.

Pfizer hopes to settle those suits, which cover up to 92 percent of plaintiffs, by year's end. It also hopes to include many of the remaining claimants in the settlement and will fight any remaining personal injury suits with court motions or at trial, General Counsel Amy Schulman told The Associated Press.

"I don't think either side has an interest in protracting this," Schulman said in an interview.

She said the deal comes after two important court rulings - one by a New York state judge overseeing many of the state-level personal injury cases and the other by a federal judge in San Francisco coordinating pretrial steps in federal lawsuits over the drugs.

"We teed up some pretrial motions for a court ruling on whether there was significantly reliable evidence that would allow an expert to testify as to whether there was an increased risk of heart attack and stroke at the most common dose," 200 milligrams, Schulman said. Both judges ruled that was not the case, she said.

The proposed deal also would end suits by insurers and patients seeking to recover what they spent on Bextra and Celebrex, as well as claims by 33 states and the District of Columbia that Pfizer improperly promoted Bextra.

Out of the total settlement, $745 million will go to settle personal injury cases, $60 million will cover settlements with attorneys general in the 33 states and the District of Columbia, and $89 million will cover consumer fraud class action cases over reimbursement for money spent on the two drugs. Two additional states, Louisiana and Mississippi, still have pending cases regarding Pfizer's promotion of the drugs.

New York-based Pfizer's research and development headquarters are in Connecticut, in New London and Groton. The company withdrew Bextra from the market in 2005, a year after Merck & Co. withdrew its Vioxx, a similar drug.

The Vioxx withdrawal, which triggered an avalanche of lawsuits against Merck, also raised concerns about the safety of other medicines in the same class, called Cox-2 inhibitors. They were heavily touted by their makers as superior to traditional nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, because they block an enzyme involved in promoting inflammation but - unlike NSAIDs - don't block an enzyme that protects the stomach from bleeding and other side effects.

Other NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen and naproxen, have also been linked to some increased heart risks.

Celebrex is the only Cox-2 inhibitor that the Food and Drug Administration has allowed to remain on the U.S. market.

Schulman said the company's negotiations with opposing lawyers had been under way for some time but picked up in the late summer.

"Litigation can be distracting, and putting these matters behind us helps our shareholders and, most importantly, patients and doctors," Schulman said.

Pfizer will take a pre-tax charge of $894 million to its third-quarter earnings, which it is scheduled to report on Tuesday.

Merck, based in Whitehouse Station, N.J., has begun paying a $4.85 billion settlement to end about 50,000 lawsuits brought by people claiming Vioxx cause heart attacks, ischemic strokes or death. It still faces other litigation over the former blockbuster arthritis treatment.

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